Geologist who was killed in Burkina Faso died while working job 'he loved': son
Kirk Woodman is seen in this undated photo.
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 30, 2019 3:31PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 30, 2019 4:34PM EST
HALIFAX -- Family members of a Canadian mining executive who was kidnapped and killed by gunmen in western Africa said at his funeral Wednesday that his murder was senseless, but they also recognize he died while pursuing the work he was passionate about.
Officials in the Burkina Faso government have said the body of Kirk Woodman of Halifax was found with bullet wounds on Jan. 16 in Oudalan province, in the northern Sahel region.
The exploration geologist with Vancouver-based Progress Minerals Inc. had been kidnapped the night before by armed gunmen who'd entered a mining camp in Tiabongou, some distance away.
About 400 people attended the 55-year-old man's funeral at Knox United Church in the suburb of Lower Sackville, despite difficult driving conditions on ice-covered roads.
Matt Woodman, the geologist's son, described an attentive father who led Scouts Canada groups, coached minor hockey and couldn't resist pulling the family car over on a busy highway to examine rock outcrops.
He told the gathering that his father would go away for weeks at a time to work on the gold exploration projects that led to several mines in Africa.
"(He) would do anything to make for a great life for his family back home," said Woodman, who works for CTV News in Edmonton.
Woodman would often call his son from overseas, but Matt Woodman recalled they didn't discuss a great deal other than the extreme heat in the work camps.
"'How's Africa?' I'd ask. 'Hot,' he'd reply. But what I wouldn't give to be able to talk to him one last time, just to hear how hot it is," he said.
"The truth is Dad died doing what he loved, even if he was taken from us senselessly and far too soon."
Woodman said one of the tragedies for his family is that they were looking forward to making memories together, such as a skiing trip in February in Whistler, B.C.
He said his father and mother were also speaking about retirement and planning a dream home close to the area where he and his brothers had enjoyed their youth.
The son also shared memories of a father whose professional passion occasionally spilled over into holidays, recalling how Woodman would relentlessly pan for gold during camping trips near Lunenburg, N.S., often ending up with nothing more than a tiny particle to show for his efforts.
Kirk's wife, Gail Woodman, also described her husband's love of mining and of rocks, but she added that he was a person who wanted to contribute to the communities he was working in.
"He wasn't just about the job. He took great interest in the people of West Africa ... He was always thinking about how he could personally or through his work contribute to the community," she said.
He filled his suitcase with toys and sports gear for children, contributed financially to medical clinics and just days before his death had ensured a water well was drilled by his company as a contribution to a village where they were working.
"Kirk was my rock, my calming influence, my soul mate, he balanced out all of my quirky traits," said Gail Woodman.
"I always thought we'd grow old together. ... I love you and miss you. A piece of my heart will always be with you in heaven."
Details on precisely who was responsible for Woodman's death have been slow to emerge, as no group has taken responsibility.
Jean Paul Badoum, an official with the West African country's Ministry of Security, said last week the gunmen who kidnapped Woodman appear to have stolen a number of items, including money, cell phones and computers, and he suggested the perpetrators may have been bandits.
However, he also said there are extremists, bandits and drug traffickers active in the region, so it's often hard to say who's to blame in these cases -- or whether it was different groups working together.
With no witnesses and no one claiming involvement, Badoum has said it remains unclear what took place in the hours before Woodman's body was found.
Burkina Faso recently declared a state of emergency in the region as attacks by Islamic extremists increase, especially along the border with Niger and Mali.
In Halifax, Matt Woodman and the others who spoke in the church chose to focus on the geologist's human qualities, rather than the violence that led to his death.
The scriptures chosen included selected verses from Ecclesiastes 3 that call for times of grief and mourning but also suggest that humans should "be happy, do good while they live ...There is nothing better for a person but to enjoy their work because that is their lot."
Matt Woodman concluded his remarks with a summary of the family's loss.
"Kirk was an amazing father, devoted husband, a caring son and brother ... not one day will go by when that we won't miss him," he said.