'Woody' Woodwell '79 pursued destiny

by Charles Gardner | 10/30/01 6:00am

Richard Herron Woodwell '79 was destined for business success from an early age. As a sixth grader growing up in the Pennsylvania town of Ligonier, Woodwell -- who was an avid coin collector -- would often trade coins with the elderly owner of a local jewelry shop.

"This gentleman really got a kick out of their trading, but my brother was good at it, and probably got the better end of the deal some of the time," elder brother J.K. Woodwell recalls.

For Woodwell, known to his friends as "Woody," a childhood hobby would eventually lead to a lifelong career in investment banking, in which he worked as an equities trader for the New York firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Woodwell, who served as Senior Vice President in the company's trading department, was stationed on the 89th floor of World Trade Center Tower Two when the second hijacked jet struck the building.

Born the second of three children in Pittsburgh, Pa., Woodwell moved to Ligonier with his family upon entering the sixth grade, and later attended the Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Conn., before coming to Dartmouth.

He embarked on his career in investment banking immediately following graduation, initially working as a floor broker for Dean Witter at the Pacific Options Exchange in San Francisco. He married his wife Linda Preston in 1988, and soon afterward moved to Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.

Friends and family members remember a man devoted to his job and family in equal measure.

"I think Woody is a great example of how to achieve balance in life," said John Saer '79, a classmate and longtime friend. "While he always worked hard, he managed to leave it behind and spend time with his family ... he was a very involved father."

"I would describe him as very competitive, both scholastically as well as in sports," J.K. Woodwell said. "At the same time, he was completely devoted to his family, which was by all means the joy of his life. He was a tremendous family person."

"He was dedicated to his work but not wrapped up in it," wife Linda Woodwell said, telling how Woody coached soccer teams for two of their three young children, and often took the family on skiing vacations, in addition to spending summers on Cape Cod at their family's house in Hyannisport.

"We never went to Disney World or any cookie-cutter vacations ... he loved doing great things with [the children]," she said.

He enjoyed golfing, sailing, tennis, skiing and soccer, and strongly encouraged his children in their own athletic activities. His younger sister, Pamela Woodwell Geerdes, spoke fondly of a winter he had spent living and working at Snowbird, Utah, following college graduation. He later took his family to Snowbird each year during Thanksgiving vacation. "He really had quite the life," she said.

While at Dartmouth, Woodwell, a government major, excelled academically and was widely admired by his classmates.

"He was unquestionably one of the nicest guys in the class," friend and '79 Class President William Mitchell said. "He carried himself with such humility that you were never aware that he had such academic prowess."

At the College, Woodwell participated in a wide range of organizations, foremost among them Psi Upsilon fraternity (where he worked as secretary), Class Council and the Winter Carnival Committee, which he headed in his junior year.

"He was very active at Psi U and was certainly somebody that everybody knew," John Saer '79 said. "He was a very well-known and well-liked member of the class with a very wide group of friends."

According to Mitchell, Woody's popularity was due to his adventurous and confident nature, and his sheer enthusiasm for life and friends.

"We went together on the LSA in San Luis Potosi, in Mexico," Mitchell said. "One day, in Puerto Escondido, a few of us stood above this 30-foot cliff to survey the prospects of diving in even though we had no idea what was below the surface."

"Just as two of us were about to go, Woody beat us to it by jumping in feet first."

In another incident, Woodwell was asked late one night to make a run to the William Tally House, a 24-hour eating establishment located at the bus station in White River Junction. Such "Tally Rallies," as they were known, were not uncommon, though Woody added the novel twist of driving clothed only in boxer shorts.

After skillfully explaining his predicament to police during a pullover on the interstate, Woodwell arrived at the Tally House only to be stopped by a "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy.

Undeterred, he donned a girl's sweater conveniently found in the back of his car, placed two golf club covers on his feet, and successfully reentered the store.

"It obviously took a tremendous amount of casual confidence, and that's why he was beloved by his classmates," Mitchell said.

Woodwell remained a loyal alumnus of the College after graduation, visiting campus as recently as 1999, when he and his family returned to Dartmouth for his 20th reunion.

"He loved Dartmouth and the people he met there," Saer said. "There was always a special place in his heart for Hanover and especially the people he came across."

He was also dedicated to his preparatory school, Avon Old Farms, at which his wife Linda has established a scholarship fund in his name. "I would say he was one of our most outstanding alumni," said Susan Evans of the Avon alumni office. "He was the glue for his class."

Evans' husband, Peter, delivered the eulogy at Woody's memorial service last month.

Over 400 people attended the service, held Sept. 22 in Saddle River, N.J., including nearly 50 alumni from his Dartmouth class.

"It was just unbelievable coming back from his memorial service ... it filled the entire church," J.K. Woodwell said. "He had a network of friends from all over the country."

John Saer summed up Woody's attitude towards life. "I think of him as a friend in the truest sense of the word, as someone who is always there for you and who is eternally optimistic. His love of life made him someone who affected a lot of people very positively."

"He was a terrific person: kind, gentle and so giving," his wife Linda said. "He was easygoing, happy and just loved life ... it's too hard to think that he's no longer here."

Woodwell is survived by his wife, Linda, and his three young children, Richard Jr., 11; Margaret, 8; and Eleanor, 4; as well as his brother J.K. Woodwell III and sister Pamela Woodwell Geerdes.