THE UNIVERSITY lost one of its favorite sons on Jan. 7. Dean T. Braxton Woody was 99 years old. He came to the University in 1919, and he never left. He was buried in the University cemetery. With him went a connection to days long gone and ideals long forgotten.
One of the best days I ever spent was with Dean Woody a few years before he died. He was the oldest living member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, and every semester some of us would visit him. In his late 90s, Woody was as spry and witty as ever, though by his own admission it took him a little bit longer to do things than before. He liked to tell us how it took him four hours to put his pants on.
But he also liked to tell us what the University was like when he was a first year. Dean Woody began his University experience just after the first World War. He first lived in a boarding house on Elliewood Avenue, but returned his second year to find that his house had been torn down. Seems they had put up a red brick building for a new store called Mincers. He moved into Booker House, a boarding house run by Mrs. Booker for the better part of this century. He was one of her first boarders. Now the University uses it as a press office.
Not everything has changed since the 1920s. Woody always wanted to know whether the Mad Bowl still flooded. Seems that back in his school days, the Bowl would be under water for the better part of the year. Fraternities would make their pledges take off most of their clothes and roll around in the cold mud.
Woody was responsible for perhaps the greatest change in the University this century. In the early 1970s, as dean of romance languages, Woody chaired the commission to investigate co-education. Legend has it that Woody was chosen because of his supposed conservatism and old-line dedication. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Dean Woody wrote a report recommending co-education, and it was in part his good name and reputation that helped make it a reality. The University community is forever grateful.
Dean Woody was dedicated to one principle in his life: honor. Every time I met with him, Woody would ask about the honor system. He heard rumors of a change in the single sanction. He wanted to know if students still believed in the system, whether they still cherished the ideal. His eyes always would well up when he asked these questions. But to Dean Woody, honor was more than just a word, and was certainly more than just not lying, cheating or stealing. Woody always told us that being honorable is about giving your word and keeping to your promises.
Woody practiced what he preached. Back in the early 1970s, Dean Woody heard the reports that smoking could cause serious disease and death. Like any good Virginian, he ingested tobacco in just about every way possible. The reports scared him, and he resolved to quit smoking. He tried most of the prescribed methods, but none of them worked. So one day he looked in the mirror, and said, "Woody, I give you my word that I will never smoke again." That was it. He never smoked again.
Dean Woody gave his life to the University. He taught for almost 50 years, and was part of this community for almost a century. He gave his money to endow a scholarship in the French and Spanish departments, and attended Jefferson Society functions almost until his death. It is sad that the University makes it almost impossible for more people like Woody to come along. The unwritten policy against hiring professors who have done their graduate work at the University prevents her sons and daughters from giving their lives and careers to their alma mater. Perhaps that is the reason why so many professors do not support the honor system, and why so few attend student-oriented events. It may sound melodramatic, but there is something to the fact that unless you have worn the honors of honor, you really do not understand the University. You certainly will not love it the way Woody did. He will be missed.
(Sam Waxman's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily.)