In roughly five decades as a sports writer, columnist and newspaper editor, Rick Woodson won some 20 first-place awards, including top National Newspaper Association and New York Press Association prizes for the weekly columns he wrote for the Rochester Business Journal.
But more than any of those honors, said John Halstead, president of SUNY College at Brockport, Mr. Woodson treasured a laudatory column written by Cassie Negley, editor of the college's student newspaper, the Stylus, in December on the occasion of Mr. Woodson's retirement as an adjunct journalism professor.
Mr. Woodson, 72, died Tuesday of pulmonary fibrosis, a condition of uncertain origin that causes scarring of the lungs. During his waning days in Rochester General Hospital's intensive care unit, Mr. Woodson was deluged with some 250 emails, including scores from former students expressing good wishes, said his wife, Elizabeth Teall.
"He is the man, the myth, the legend: Rick Woodson," Negley wrote.
RBJ reporter and editorial assistant Velvet Spicer calls Mr. Woodson "my first journalism professor, a mentor who became a dear friend."
Working some 12 years ago in the trucking department of a paper company and attending SUNY Brockport, Spicer planned a career in the transportation industry.
"When I was a child I wanted to be a writer, and I had told (Mr. Woodson) that," she said. "He said that even though there weren't many jobs (in journalism), I should follow my passion and dream."
Mr. Woodson also helped arrange the interview for Spicer that landed her the job she holds at the RBJ.
As a teacher, Mr. Woodson drew on a journalism career stretching back to his days as a reporter for the school newspaper at Northwestern State University in Louisiana. He returned to the school, where he also had played Division III basketball, as sports information director for a one-year stint in 1967 after working as a reporter and columnist for the Shreveport Journal in Shreveport, La.
Mr. Woodson later was sports editor of the Longview Daily News in Longview, Wash., and, after a stint at the Rochester Times-Union in the mid-1970s, sports editor for the Honolulu Advertiser.
He returned to Rochester in the 1980s as a sports writer for the Gannett Rochester newspapers. Mr. Woodson began writing the regular weekly RBJ column, the last of which appeared in the March 1 edition, in 1996 after a brief stint as an RBJ beat reporter, a rare departure from sports journalism.
"Rick was a beloved and gifted writer, and we were so very fortunate to have him as an RBJ columnist for almost 17 years," RBJ president and publisher Susan Holliday said. "Our readers delighted in his unique perspective on all things sports. Our employees will sadly miss his wonderful sense of humor, his great smile and his love of life."
"We were extremely fortunate to have Rick's work in our pages for nearly two decades; he was a great writer," said Paul Ericson, RBJ editor and vice president. "But to me he was an even greater friend. I'm sure many people feel that way. He fully embraced his life and the people who were part of it."
In the early 1990s, Mr. Woodson and Terry Quinn, a friend and frequent golf partner who is married to Teall's sister, became business partners in a venture to develop a Webster driving range.
After a manager they had hired was unexpectedly called out of the country, Mr. Woodson gave up full-time work as a reporter to manage it, a responsibility he continued to shoulder until the business was sold several years ago.
Frank Cardon, a former sports editor at the Rochester Times-Union who hired Mr. Woodson as a reporter, largely credits Mr. Woodson's writing for the newspaper winning Associated Press honors in two years for best sports reporting in an afternoon paper.
"Rick mostly liked to write columns," Cardon said. "He was an exceptional writer. He liked to write about people. It didn't matter to him who it was. He was a storyteller."
In journalism, Mr. Woodson held himself and others to exacting standards, Cardon said. The two men, who remained friends and golfing partners after Mr. Woodson's departure from the Gannett Rochester newspapers in the early 1990s, would hash over mistakes or omissions Mr. Woodson noticed in published reports.
"If your mother says she loves you, check with another source," Mr. Woodson admonished his journalism students.
SUNY Brockport's Halstead first became acquainted with Mr. Woodson when Mr. Woodson asked the college leader to field student reporters' questions in mock press conferences that were classroom exercises. Halstead recalls Mr. Woodson urging students to interrogate him seriously with queries on many topics and not to shy away from any line of inquiry.
"I enjoyed them tremendously," said Halstead, adding that through that contact he and Mr. Woodson became fast friends and, as was often the case in Mr. Woodson's circle, golfing partners.
"I feel privileged to have been invited to spend time in Rick's and Beth's home," Halstead said.
In a long journalistic career, Mr. Woodson compiled a Rolodex crammed with contact information for top sports personalities, a resource he drew on often to line up nationally ranked golfers as guests on "The Golf Tee," a weekly local Sunday morning radio show on which he and Mr. Woodson served as co-hosts, Quinn said.
Mr. Woodson and Teall first met through the "1370 Sports Connection," a sports call-in show for which he was host in the 1980s on WXXI-AM 1370. She was then WXXI's communications director and drew the assignment of publicizing the new show. A strong attraction between her and Mr. Woodson was immediate, Teall said. They quickly became a couple and married in 1995.
While Mr. Woodson's public persona involves his achievements as a sports journalist, golfer and golf advocate, and teacher, Teall said, "he's actually a Renaissance man."
In addition to the non-fiction writing he did as a reporter and columnist, she said, Mr. Woodson produced a steady stream of fiction, including short stories and "Marcie," a nearly finished novel centering on a troubled relationship between a socially mismatched young man and young woman. He also produced paintings in a style she described as "primitive" and annually produced Christmas cards the couple sent to friends and relatives.
A dedicated parent to two sons, a daughter and a stepdaughter and a proud grandparent, Mr. Woodson boasted often of his sons' success as professional golfers and golf instructors.
Before he unexpectedly developed the first signs of his illness in October, Mr. Woodson was planning a crusade to get his daughter's two sons, who have a musical group in Texas, invited to perform in the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
"He was serious about that and would have done it," Teall said.
Mr. Woodson was born in Texas. After his father, a railroad employee, and his mother, a nurse, moved to Louisiana, he grew up in Shreveport. The years he spent in New York never quite erased Mr. Woodson's Southern drawl.
As a youth, Mr. Woodson played basketball on Shreveport's Fair Park High School team, once scoring 33 points in a single game. Before attending Northwestern State, where he graduated in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor in journalism, he attended Centenary College in Louisiana and was a member of the school's Division I basketball squad.
A brother died in infancy, leaving Mr. Woodson as his parents' only surviving child.
"He always said that he hoped to join his brother someday," Teall said. "I hope he has."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Woodson is survived by children Rick Jr. (Lisa) of Sachse, Texas; Debra (Alan) Waldrop of Austin, Texas; Michael Woodson of Louisville, Ky.; and Tiffany (A.J.) Wheeler of Portland, Ore.; and by grandchildren Cassidy, Duncan, Pierce, Camryn and Catherine.
Calling hours are planned from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Anthony Funeral & Cremation Chapels, 2305 Monroe Ave. A celebration of Mr. Woodson's life is planned to begin at 10 a.m. Monday at Oak Hill Country Club, 246 Kilbourn Road.
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