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BRATTLEBORO REFORMER

Friends say Woodward left behind legacy of good deeds
By TOBY HENRY
Reformer Staff

December 13

BRATTLEBORO -- As they struggle to come to terms with their grief, friends and family members of Robert "Woody" Woodward recall him as a man whose vocation was to simply help others.

"He was a loving, caring and generous person," said his mother, Joanne Woodward, speaking from Bozrah, Conn. "I'm going to miss him a lot. He touched a lot of people in a very positive way."

"I don't know a single person who had a bad thing to say about him," said his friend Stephen Monroe "Zak" Tomczak of Wallingford, Conn.

Woodward, who was born in Norwich, Conn., on March 19, 1964, and died Dec. 2 after being shot seven times by Brattleboro police in the All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church, has, according to those who knew and loved him, left behind a legacy of charitable deeds. Many people recalled his work teaching children in Taiwan to speak English, his work with autistic youth, and also how eight years ago, he spent more than a year taking care of his maternal grandmother, Violet Edson.

Although the "agitated state" which Woodward appeared to be in indicated to some that he was mentally ill on the morning he was killed, no one who knew him has mentioned that he had a history of mental illness. He visited his grandmother, who now lives in a Vermont nursing home, the Friday before he died, but this was part of his normal routine, said his mother.

"He was a frequent visitor to her nursing home," she said. "She has advanced Alzheimer's (disease), and when he visited her, he would also visit other people on her (nursing home) floor."

"I saw him when he was sad (but) he never had 'dark moods,'" said friend Ursula Shea-Borneo of Shutesbury, Mass.

"If there was something amiss, it is unfathomable to me that he would keep it to himself," said Tomczak .

Woodward's parents last saw him at the end of November, and they described him as being his usual self.

"We saw him during the Thanksgiving weekend," said his mother. "We all had a Thanksgiving dinner together, he visited his friends, and on Sunday he went on a hike. He was, like always, very cheerful and positive."

A chorus of friends and family members say he was a vegetarian, a devout Buddhist and a mentor. He was spiritual yet very down-to-earth, said Tomczak. He was an avid outdoorsman, and was energetic without being forceful, said friend Mary Rives of Amherst, Mass. He was neat and professional without being materialistic, said his mother.

Above all, a cardinal trait of kindness shines through in every description of him. Nearly a dozen people mentioned an incident in August at the wedding of Tomczak and Mary Crawford, which they felt illustrated the depth of Woodward's compassion.

"Woody was a groomsman at our wedding, and he loved to dance," said Tomczak. "My wife's 93-year-old grandmother, Rosa Raschke, was there, and she said to someone near her that she would just love to dance, too, if only she could get out of her wheelchair.

"Woody overheard her, and he was right there, helping her out of her wheelchair, and he danced with her," he continued. "This is very significant to my wife and me because her grandmother died about three weeks after the wedding. That was her last dance."

While family members describe Woodward as a caring grandson, a loving son and a dedicated brother, the familial references continue among his friends as well; they describe him "as close as a brother," "a foster uncle" and "like a big brother to me."

"We were very close," said 18-year-old Rene Rives, the son of Mary Rives and Keith Carlson. "He played a large role in raising me and he was like my big brother. His death is a big loss.

"I have a picture of him in my car, and as I was driving home from work (on Tuesday), I just broke down crying," he continued. "The pain is just unimaginable.

"I remember one time we went hiking up Mount Stratton," he continued. "We saw a radio tower that he wanted to climb, so he climbed up, and he wanted me (to follow). I was only 10 years old, and I was afraid of heights. I climbed about halfway up and I said 'I can't make it, Woody.'

"He kept encouraging me, saying 'You can make it. There's nothing to be afraid of.' I finally made it all the way to the top.

"On that day, he helped me conquer that fear, and he helped me conquer many fears."

Following Woodward's death, friends and family members said, some rumors have described visits by "government agents" to Woodward's residence on the morning of Dec. 2, and claims that Woodward had mentioned having "invented a pollution-free car engine" that he felt someone was persecuting him for. So far, none of these statements has been verified.

"He was a creative thinker, but I don't think his orientation was toward science," said Shea-Borneo. "His orientation was more toward writing, meditating, playing chess and hiking in the outdoors."

"To my knowledge, he didn't have the engineering skill to develop an engine," said Tomczak. "I kind of think he would have told his friends about it if he had."

The people who once were drawn together by Woodward's friendship and kindness are now drawn together in grief. Some find solace in their belief that their friend is at peace.

"In the past few years, I've seen him become even more deeply peaceful," said Mary Rives. "We've all been feeling the comfort of his spirit. He wants us to know that he's OK and he's at peace."

However, all acknowledge that life without this caring and dynamic man, whether he played the role of teacher, brother, friend or mentor, is difficult.

"Whether it was intentional or not Woody has been stolen from us," said Tomczak, "from his family, his friends and from the people he helped for many years. We're angry, and we are very sad."

A memorial service for Robert Woodward will be held today at 2 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Springfield.