UPDATE: For those of you who asked. Ruebel Funeral Home will be handling arrangements for John Woodruff. Memorials: The American Cancer Society; Angel Flight, which arranges flights for cancer patients in need of treatment, and the First United Methodist Church.
I learned early this afternoon of the death this afternoon at St. Vincent Infirmary of John Woodruff, an Arkansas Gazette colleague, who died at 65 after staring down cancer for what seemed decades, never mind the pioneering open heart surgery he'd had when he was a teen.
Don Zimmerman, for whom John worked at the Arkansas Municipal League, said John had worked through Friday -- parking in the farthest corner of the parking lot as customary to get the maximum exercise on his way into work. He'd vowed after his heart surgery to stay fit by running a marathon every year and chalked up more than 40 of them. He also made the torturuous run up and down Pike's Peak more than a dozen times, once on a broken foot.
Zimmerman repeated what everyone who knew him said -- "He was the toughest person I ever knew." And the kindest and gentlest and most persistent reporter I may have ever encountered.
My enduring memory of John will be the image of him in the pre-dawn light as he trudged up the sharp hill on the street where I lived, one of the steepest in town. He could barely shuffle after one of his many rounds of chemotherapy, but he always chose the hardest routes for his workouts. He figured, I guess, that they'd produce the biggest gains.
He and his wife Diane had called in a pledge to KUAR last Friday morning. Saturday he was in the hospital. Sunday, he was still struggling to speak with those who dropped by to see him. It's almost impossible to believe that he's gone. I thought his friends would want to know.
ALSO: Mike Trimble, another former Gazette colleague now newspapering in Texas, got caught in the blog's registration nightmare and asks that I pass along his remembrance:
Some folks might not know that John began his journalism career as an incredibly gifted photographer. We attended the University together in the early 60's and he was the photographer for the Razorback, the school yearbook (editor, Doug Smith). I worked for the school daily, the Traveler, as a very bad photographer, and we shared a darkroom in Hill Hall, the old journalism building. John was in financial as well as physical straits in those days, and he lived for a time in the darkroom because he couldn't afford an apartment or student housing. He was a quiet, gentle man with a bottomless well of strength and good will that he readily shared with his lucky colleagues.
And another Gazetter:
Yes, he fought and fought, and ran his marathons until he couldn’t; was bald and down to bone but still living, and laughing; he and I go back to Chicago UPI in the 60s, when he worked there part-time while going to Northwestern
When it became known almost two years ago that I had cancer of the prostate, John was the only person whom I worked with at the Gazette who ever called me about my illness. He and I decided it would be beneficial for both of us to have lunch at Homer's. He was accompanied by a friend who was a long-time cancer survivor. It was one of my favorite lunches.
John Woodruff combined complete gentleness, kindness and honesty with complete competitive grit and devotion to his job. In a journalist, this combination may be the rarest on Earth, until the hell-freezes-over day it is discovered in a politician.
I thank his family for sharing him with the rest of the world, and with me, for just a bit, during our too-brief time together at the Arkansas Gazette. He taught me much by how he did his job, but he taught me more, and is still teaching me, by how he lived his life.
For a glimpse of the dry, self-deprecating wit of John Woodruff and an insight into just how great a reporter he was -- or simply to relive old times -- please check out Arkansas Business' link to the interview Jerol Garrison conducted with John for the University of Arkansas oral history project on the Arkansas Gazette. And John was a great reporter, but because of his humility, that now almost extinct quality, I'm not sure that enough people realize how great he was. He knew where ALL the bodies were buried, whose they were and who buried them, and even those who buried the bodies respected him, even when he reported on the burials and those who did the burying. And I suspect he prayed for all of them, but quietly, without their knowing, as was his way.
And another fellow news reporter:
I'd add that John would leave a quarter, back in the day, to pay for
his coffee rather than be indebted to whatever agency or organization
he was covering that day. I think of him every time I follow in his
footsteps and mess up everybody's bookkeeping by paying for my own
treats at meetings I cover.