Farewell Woody


Dave Woodruff, New Milford, Connecticut,October, 2012 © Steven Willard

We knew it was coming; nothing could stop it. Since Dave had first gotten the diagnosis we all knew it was only a matter of time

Dave has been one of my oldest and closest friends since we met at high school in 1963. Fifty years and I never heard him say an unkind word to, or about, anyone. My wife Chris said it in one sentence; a kind, good man with a sweet soul. How very true.

Dave and I became friends because of a common interest in photography and because we both worked on the school yearbook staff as photographers. Dave had learned about photography from his father as I had learned from mine, but while my dad was an amateur his had worked as a professional, and I think it had an influence on Dave’s attitude about photography that stayed with him his whole life. While I maintained a pretty steady interest in photography it always was as a hobby; serious, but I never tried to earn a living at it. I was/am a dilettante by comparison. Dave never professed to be an “artiste” but was content, perhaps proud, to be an honest  journeyman who learned to use cameras as tools to get a job done in a competent fashion. I admired him for that.

After high school Dave went to Chicago to study photography at one of the schools that taught the trade back then. He needed money to stay in school so he got a job as a photographer’s assistant where he quickly realized he was learning more about the craft of photography there than he was in class so he dropped out and began his professional career. If it hadn’t been for the conflict in Vietnam who knows how his career might have gone. As it was he ended up joining the Air Force, there was a draft remember, and he was soon in training as an Air Force photographer. It was great training. He learned to use everything from 35mm to 4×5 and to do it under pressure; colonels don’t suffer fools lightly. One wasn’t expected to produce art, but you were expected to get the shot.

Once out of the Air Force he worked at a variety of photo related jobs from commercial photography to camera store sales. He learned to service the automated machines that developed film and made prints and then watched as that market all but died with the growth of digital imaging. He refused to be deterred however, and taught himself to become a digital literate. He built his own computer and was soon expert enough to land a job with the Austin Police Department where he helped the department make the final move to exclusive digital imaging. Every time we talked I was impressed by his depth of knowledge, most of it gained by first hand experience and hard work. He loved the field of photography and worked hard at it.

As his retirement got closer he talked about what he wanted to do with his time; there was never a question. He wanted to photograph, but now he wanted to do his photography not someone else’s. He had put together a modest digital arsenal that he planned to use to finally make the pictures he wanted to make. He never had a chance. He had barley started using it when cancer struck.

I had a chance to speak with him by phone just days before he died. We both knew his time was close, but neither of us wanted mention it. But I had things I wanted to say to him that could only be said if we brought it out in the open. Finally I said, “It looks like you’ll be going first Bud.”  He sort of mumbled something I didn’t catch. “What was that”, I asked? “I’ll save a place for you.” I told him I loved him, and he said he loved me too. Fifty years he was my friend.

Dave’s friends and and family will miss him. I’ll miss him. As Chris said, “he was a kind, good man with a sweet soul.” Amen.

Pentax K10D, 50mm lens. Processed in Photoshop CS4 and Nik Silver Efex Pro. I wasn’t going to list this, but I though Dave would have objected.


6 comments on “Farewell Woody

  1. Susan Reinberg says:

    The story of your friend’s passing brings tears to my eyes, Your verbal description of him matches what you captured in your beautiful portrait of him. My sympathies to you and all who knew Dave. What a sweet thing he said to you. I know he lives in you and all he shared his life with.Thank you for letting me know him a little too.


  2. Marc Isolda says:

    once again you have moved me old friend!!!!!!


  3. Betty Nelson says:

    Steve, Woody would have been so pleased. Your eloquence honors him and your friendship. You are a wonderful friend which we know from experience. Thank you.


  4. Denyse says:

    Thank you so much for the kind words about Dad. He talked of you often and you were truly a great friend to him.


  5. Ellette says:

    This is a beautiful farewell to Dave. He was a wonderful person, very loving and kind to all he met – never meeting a stranger. He will forever live on in our hearts. He was my sister’s soul mate and brought much happiness to her and to her family. God be with Dave and bring him peace.


  6. Helen C says:

    From Woody’s picture, he does look like a kind man. Wish I had a chance to get to know him.I am sure your friendship had meant a lot to him. It’s nice to have a good friend like that.


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