The Woodfins: Still newlyweds after five decades of marriage

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John “Bubba” and Kay Woodfin appear more like newlyweds than a couple that has spent nearly five decades together as husband and wife.

Kay, 72, tells her husband how “cute” she thinks he looks before getting their photo taken as the honorees of the 2009 Rutherford County Heart Ball to benefit the American Heart Association.

They met as MTSU students and married less than a year later.

Bubba, 74, had black hair back then and sparkling blue eyes, his wife said, while sitting in front of the fireplace in the couple’s East Clark Boulevard home. Above the fireplace hangs a family portrait taken on the beach with the couple’s four daughters and eight grandchildren.

“He was the cutest thing I ever saw,” Kay said of her husband, laughing.

But their long life together could have easily been cut short.

Both discovered they had blockages in their heart before suffering a heart attack. Bubba underwent a quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2002, and his wife had a triple bypass in 2007.

Heart Ball chairpersons Jim and Debbie Cope chose to honor their friends, Kay and Bubba Woodfin, for their personal story and their passion for eliminating childhood obesity at the 2009 event benefiting the American Heart Association.

“I wanted to honor someone I had grown up with my entire life,” Debbie Cope said. “I felt this was my way of giving back to the community in trying to build up the awareness of the American Heart Association in Rutherford County by honoring lifelong Rutherford countians.”

Debbie, who serves on the Middle Tennessee Medical Center’s board of directors, and Jim, a local attorney, have been involved with the American Heart Association for a number of years.

The nonprofit organization is “near and dear” to Debbie Cope since heart disease has affected everyone in her family. Her father, Ed Delbridge, died just six weeks ago after suffering a heart attack. Her mother, Clara, had a stroke five years ago and is in a nursing home.

The AHA’s mission is to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Its goal is to decrease heart disease, stroke and their risks by 25 percent by 2010.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., according to the AHA. More than 80 million adults have cardiovascular disease, which amounts to one death every 37 seconds. Locally, 8,600 of Tennessee’s 20,000 deaths per year are from cardiovascular disease, and one in 2.5 Tennesseans will die of heart disease.

The fight against childhood obesity will be the focus of the 2009 Heart Ball slated for Feb. 7 at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center located off Medical Center Parkway. Tickets start at $175 and may be reserved by calling Tambry Brechon, Middle Tennessee regional director of the American Heart Association.

Tennessee ranks third in the nation for the highest levels of childhood obesity, according to the AHA. Sixty-five percent of children ages 9-13 do not participate in physical activity in their free time.

The American Heart Association has committed to raising $10 million through all Heart Balls across the country so children can build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.


Having always enjoyed good health, heart disease was something the Woodfins never gave too much thought.

They were always active and on the go.

That’s why Bubba didn’t think anything of it when he started experiencing shortness of breath. Luckily, he and his wife were soon asked to have their heart checked at an imagining center a relative owned in Nashville in 2002.

Kay’s heart checked out fine, but Bubba’s didn’t. He had four arteries including his aortic valve that were 80-90 percent blocked. Three days later, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

Seemingly healthy, Bubba smoked as a young man, experiences high levels of stress and often ate unhealthy foods, which could have contributed to his heart disease.

Fortunately, Bubba recovered from his surgery quickly and returned to work at Woodfin Memorial Chapel the following week.

Bubba said he was “very fortunate” that the blockages were found before he suffered a heart attack. His recovery then would likely not have been as quick.

The funeral director admits, though, that heart disease hasn’t changed his life or his lifestyle. When he isn’t spending time with his family or his antique collections, Bubba is always working.

Kay speaks for her husband, though, saying he is eating healthier and eating less.

Kay has a different story. She is an example of how someone who does everything right can still suffer from heart disease due to genetics.

Always slim and athletic, Kay appeared to be in excellent health until she started not to feel like herself in November 2007.

“I just didn’t feel good,” she said. “I felt tired.”

Kay knew something was definitely wrong when she had to take breaks while doing something as simple as making up a bed.

Knowing there was a history of heart disease and diabetes in her family, Kay was determined to find out what was wrong with her. She has always been aware of what is going on in her body, and the type of person to go to the doctor when she was sick.

“If you feel something is not right, you have to get it checked out,” she said. “I knew there was something wrong.”

When Kay found out she had three partially blocked arteries in her heart, she didn’t believe it.

“I said there has to be a mistake,” Kay said. “It can’t be true.”

Three days after receiving an arteriogram, a test that uses an X-ray and a special dye to see inside the arteries of the heart, Kay underwent triple bypass surgery. She remains on cholesterol medication.

Kay said the experience scared her, but has made her a stronger advocate for her family and friends. She is always reminding her daughters to have regular checkups.

Now, Kay said she and her husband are in good health. She is continuing to exercise by playing tennis and golf and eating healthy.

The Woodfins have now turned their attention to trying to prevent others from experiencing heart disease by encouraging children to get active.

“If children are not involved in physical activity by the age of 13, they will be more likely to live a sedentary life,” Kay said.

According to the AHA, the prevalence of childhood obesity has quadrupled in the past 40 years and more than doubled in the last 20. Most obese children already have at least one other major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, high insulin or high blood pressure.

Kay said it was her granddaughter, Hannah, who inspired her to take action.

At the age of 13, Hannah was slightly overweight but told her grandmother that she wanted to be healthy like her and stop eating red meat. This year, at the age of 17, Hannah is slim and healthy and was even named homecoming queen at Brentwood Academy.

Despite their experience with heart disease, the Woodfins remain positive about their future and staying active together for many years to come.

Erin Edgemon can be reached at 869-0812 and at

2009 Heart Ball to benefit the American Heart Association
Saturday, Feb. 7 at the Embassy Suites
Music provided by The Pat Patrick Band
Tickets start at $175 and can be purchased by calling 340-4102
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