When Augusta businessman and civic leader Madison Woo passed away in 2012, his Chronicle obituary pointed out he was the first Asian-American elected to public office in Richmond County.
But he was more than that.
Starting with his father’s neighborhood grocery on Wrightsboro Road, Woo opened Chinese restaurants, a convenience store, another grocery and became a successful insurance man.
In the community, he was a leader in the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Augusta Lions Club and at St. Mark Methodist Church, where he sang in the choir for a half century.
You could say just about everyone in Augusta in the 1960s knew Madison Woo, and one of the reasons was his sponsorship of many successful recreation basketball and softball teams.
A search of The Chronicle’s archives shows perhaps 90 percent of the articles mentioning “Madison Woo” are about his ball teams. In March 1968, for example, there is a large photo on the sports page of the Madison Woo Insurance Co. Gladiators, who had just captured the city basketball league championship with a 13-1 record, edging Clearwater Finishers 64-63 to win the playoffs.
Members of the team were identified as Neal Cody, Charlie Williams, John Brennan, Bobby Cummings, Denny Burau, Burt Stills, Bob Frantz, Joe McBride and manger Jim Dresser.
Woo, the sponsor, stands in the back row in a suit and tie.
As winter turned to spring, Woo sponsored a softball team that had similar success in the city league.
Their fame attracted a challenge from Wilensky’s Roadside Stand, an independent softball powerhouse, who boasted in the newspaper that they would have their way with Woo’s wonders in an exhibition game set at Julian Smith Casino.
Paced by Larry Miller, who cycled through a single, a double, triple and home run, Woo’s team won 30-7
It wasn’t all basketball and softball, either. In 1970, as president of the Community Merchants Association, Woo pushed a fund drive to keep the city’s four public swimming pools open at night through Labor Day.
Woo was one of the biggest supporters Richmond County recreation ever had, an effort he continued after he upset County Commissioner Herbert Elliott for a seat on the board in 1970.
He immediately let it be known he wanted to chair the recreation committee and the other county commissioners got out of his way.
His four-year term went by quickly, but ended with disappointment. Despite a Chronicle editorial boosting his recreation accomplishments and urging his re-election, he lost to Harrell Tiller.
Woo went back into the community, doing what he had done before, most of it quietly.
“I guess we’re a group of introverts …” he said in a story about the Chinese Benevolent Association. “We don’t like to become involved in controversy. We strive to be broad-minded and maintain a ‘live-and-let-live’ attitude.”