Jerry Wood, chairman of the Sussex County Republican Committee, died from at his home in Frankford on Friday morning at the age of 73.
Wood reportedly succumbed to complications from late-stage cancer at about 8:45 a.m.
Wood’s death comes one week after he announced he would not be running for a second term as committee chairman, due to health reasons.
The Indiana native had a long career working for the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal government agencies and actively rehabilitated houses in the Washington D.C. area before becoming actively involved in Delaware politics in 2008, according to the a release issued by the Republican committee on Friday.
Wood was elected as chairman of the Sussex County Republican Committee in March after former chairman Glen Urquhart resigned to run an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the District 6 seat in the Delaware State Senate. Wood also served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.
Duke Brooks, the communications director of the committee, said Wood’s unflappable and decisive leadership was instrumental in carrying the party through several challenges during the past year.
“It almost didn’t matter what the emergency was, Jerry was always calm and remained unperturbed,” he said. “And through it all, he always arrived at the best solution that resulted in the right outcome.”
One of the biggest challenges the Sussex GOP faced during Wood’s term was Georgetown Republican Eric Bodenweiser’s decision to withdraw following his indictment on child sex abuse charges.
Immediately following Bodenweiser’s announcement, the Delaware Department of Elections rebuffed the party’s initial attempt to replace on his name on the ballot with former Georgetown mayor and Republican write-in candidate Brian Pettyjohn.
Wood led a successful legal challenge of that ruling, which held clear the way for Pettyjohn to win the seat in November.
“His quick and decisive action was very important in terms of my election,” Pettyjohn said Friday. “I met Jerry several years ago while working with him on some elections before he became chairman, and I always knew him to be a great guy who was very thoughtful and cautious. I’m very sorry to hear of his passing.”
Wood’s leadership also has been credited with helping the party to win the District 6 state senate seat and the District 20 state representative seat that were added to Sussex County in the most recent election cycle as a result of redistricting.
“Under his leadership in 2012, the Sussex County Republican Party was able to walk through several difficult political challenges and elect Republicans to the Delaware Legislature,” John Sigler, chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, said in a statement Friday. “His commitment to strengthening the Party’s grassroots network ensured that new faces and talents were brought into the Party and effectively utilized in advancing the cause we all hold so dear.”
Page 2 of 2 - Sigler said he would always remember the tagline Wood used to at the bottom of all his emails: “It is a great day in America.”
“Jerry is right,” Sigler said Friday. “Though, today is a sad day in Delaware.”
Sussex GOP vice-chairman John Reilly is expected to serve as the committee’s acting chair until new officers are elected in March.
Plans for Wood’s memorial service are still being finalized.
Brooks said the late party chairman would be laid to rest beside his late wife at the Garden of Remembrance Cemetery Clarksville, Md.
Wood is survived by his brothers, Delbert and Richard, his son Kent and four grandchildren.