Former Times-Union sportswriter Rick Woodson dies

written by Jim Mandelaro       March 12, 2013

Rick Woodson may have been the only person to escape Rochester’s harsh winters for the paradise of Hawaii — and then voluntarily return.

But the veteran sportswriter said he was just following his heart. Hawaii was overrated, he said. Too isolated. Too hot

“Rochester is the perfect place to raise a family,” he said many years ago.

Woodson raised a family and built a legacy as a sportswriter, adjunct college instructor, businessman and radio show host. The Irondequoit resident died Tuesday afternoon at Rochester General Hospital after a brief illness. He was 72.

“He was vibrant until the last week,” said his brother-in-law, close friend and golfing buddy, Terry Quinn.

Woodson is survived by his wife, Beth Teall; daughter Debra (Alan) Waldrop, sons Rick (Lisa) Woodson Jr. and Michael Woodson; step daughter Tiffany; and grandchildren Duncan and Pierce Waldrop and Camryn and Cassidy Woodson.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Woodson was born in Marshall, Texas, but “aged” as he always said, in Shreveport, La. He worked at newspapers in Shreveport and Longview, Wash., before coming to the Times-Union in 1977. Three years later, he left to become sports editor and lead columnist at the Honolulu Advertiser but returned to Rochester in 1982 and stayed at the T-U another 11 years.

He and Quinn opened The Golf Tee, a driving range and batting cage facility in Webster. He was an adjunct journalism instructor at St. John Fisher, Monroe Community College and primarily The College at Brockport. From 1997 until last week, he wrote a weekly sports column for the Rochester Business Journal. He also hosted a Sunday morning radio show called The Golf Tee.

Woodson was an old-school journalist — a stickler for accuracy and verification. One of his favorite quotes was: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check with another source.”

“Rick was always the hardcore AP style professor who even had his own stamp to mark up student’s papers,” said Cassie Negley, editor-in-chief of Brockport’s student newspaper, The Stylus. “I don’t make it through a day without hearing his voice in my head, talking about AP style or how documents can’t speak.”

Of the hundreds of e-mails he received while fighting for his life the past week, about 70 were from former students.

Said Wally Rugg, his friend of 40 years: “The recurring themes were: ‘You were my favorite professor. . . . I have made journalism my career because of you. . . . You not only taught me how to be a better journalist but also how to be a better person. . . . You made learning fun.’’

Woodson could do a mean John Wayne impression, loved golf and Don Knotts and never took his profession too seriously.

“In three days, that column you wrote is going to be lining some bird’s cage,” he often said with a smile and the Southern drawl he never lost.

His loved telling writers to “scribe to daylight!” a takeoff on legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi’s “run to daylight.”

“Rick scribed to daylight as well as anyone I worked with in 40-plus years,” longtime friend and colleague Nico Van Thyn said Tuesday.

Former Times-Union sports editor Frank Cardon hired Woodson, and the two became close friends and golfing partners.

“Rick Woodson was one of the most caring people I’ve worked with,” Cardon said. “He loved to write, and it didn’t matter if your name was Jim Kelly or Billy Bob Nobody. He put his heart and soul into his stories and columns.’’

In his 2007 book, Words of Woodson, Rick thanked Cardon for “allowing me to become the first reasonably sane human being to move back to Rochester from Hawaii by choice.’’

He was charming and made friends easily but never shied away from controversial topics. He sided with management during the 1987 NFL players strike. When the strike ended and Woodson walked into the Bills locker room, he heard one player instruct the others: “He’s here. No one talks.”

He continued doing his job, and eventually the players came around.

Another time, he wrote during LPGA week in Rochester that women golfers “are afraid of the men because the women can’t compete with the men in the business of making birdies.”

The next day, several female golfers verbally attacked Woodson in the media room at Locust Hill and some hung him in effigy in the players’ locker room. The next year, he wrote a column promising to be “a good boy” and closed by telling readers, “If you’re looking for me at Locust Hill this week, I’ll be the one with the long red hair, red goatee, tinted, horn-rimmed glasses, cowboy boots and 10-gallon hat.”

He butted heads with Bills stars Kelly and Bruce Smith. He once told Smith, no fan of the print media, “Guess who’s gonna call you for an interview in 20 years? Nobody.”

Woodson’s soulmate was Beth. He would constantly tell friends “She’s as beautiful on the inside as the outside.”

Tuesday, he died in her arms.

The two loved attending Red Wings games at Frontier Field. Rick never failed to visit the press box and tell a funny story or two.

“What I will always remember most about Rick is his love for life and the positive outlook he carried with him every day,’’ said Chuck Hinkel, the Wings’ former director of media relations.

Woodson’s writing idol was Jim Murray, the legendary Los Angeles Times columnist who once wrote of NASCAR drivers, “Gentlemen start your coffins.”

Woodson was still shooting in the 70s last summer. In a column for the RBJ, he described a recent dream. He was on the 18th hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, the birthplace of golf. He hit a perfect drive, crossed the Swilkan Burn Bridge and rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt to beat Quinn 1-up.

“When I woke up, tears were gently flowing down both cheeks,” he wrote. “I felt as if I had just visited . . . what, heaven? Well, definitely golf heaven.’’

Woodson made that dream a reality weeks later when he played a round at St. Andrew’s and broke 100.

“It was on his bucket list,” Quinn said.

Tuesday afternoon, as the end drew near, Rick Jr. and his wife Lisa walked the course at Woodbridge Golf Club outside of Dallas, where Rick Jr. is the golf pro. Rick Jr. drank an Old Fashioned, his dad’s favorite drink. And he imagined his father crossing that bridge into golf heaven.