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Bob Woody: Renaissance Man

Robert H. Woody reported on oil, gas and mining executives while carrying a strong environmentalist conviction in his heart.

He wrote about business and commerce but was an artist and adventurer in his soul. He dressed in a suit and tie, but usually rode his bicycle to work.

He was a soldier from a legendary World War II unit–the vaunted 10th Mountain Division–but he hated war and protested for peace.

“He was a true Renaissance man,” said Barbara Woody, his wife of nearly 60 years, the day after he died Wednesday of a combination of medical maladies at the age of 84.

Woody worked at The Salt Lake Tribune from 1957 until his retirement in 1990. He was business editor during the final 25 of those 33 years and wrote a popular column, “Up and Down the Street.”

He had a fierce competitive nature as a journalist and a gregarious personality that entertained his colleagues in the newsroom. He played classical guitar and studied architecture, karate and the Renaissance flute.

“Bob was famous in the newsroom for calling out, ‘Take a number,’ whenever someone shouted that he was wanted on the phone,” said Mike Korologos, former assistant to The Tribune’s executive editor. “He was always on the phone getting a story. So he always needed to call the person back.”

Woody’s “take a number” mantra became famous in the 1970s when the receptionist told him the Shah of Iran was on the phone. Woody had called Tehran earlier in the day to chase down a rumor the Shah was going to purchase the Snowbird ski resort. The Shah’s secretary was calling him back. He ended up taking that call.

“He loved reporting and he was always interested in people,” said former Tribune Editor Will Fehr. “That combination made him an excellent journalist.”

When Woody took over the business page in 1965, the focus was on mining and minerals. Woody reported on those areas, said Korologos, but he expanded the coverage to small businesses and the interesting people who ran those enterprises.

Woody was born in Philadelphia on Oct. 3, 1925. He grew up in Texas and Massachusetts, and graduated from Dartmouth College. He studied art at the Colorado Springs College of Fine Art and began his journalism career working for rural newspapers in Colorado and Idaho before landing at The Tribune as a general assignment reporter.

“Bob had great sources because people trusted him,” said former editorial page editor and close friend Harry Fuller. “They trusted that he would report the story accurately and properly.”

That trust became apparent in the late 1970s when a colleague heard a tip that the LDS Church was about to purchase land for development to energize the eroding south side of Salt Lake City’s business district.

Church and business leaders were mum about the rumor but Woody, who was recovering from major surgery, orchestrated the scoop from his hospital bed. While reporters in the newsroom were getting nowhere, Woody got the story and phoned it in.

“I thank all–the many hundreds–who trusted and confided in me. And, yes, who tipped me off,” he wrote in his last column on Oct. 7, 1990. “Without them, I would have been so much the lesser.”

After retirement, Woody skied, mountain climbed, traveled and went back to school.

(This article by Paul Rolly appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune on April 23, 2010. Bob Woody lived in Burley from 1954 to1957 where he worked for The Burley Herald-Bulletin. Although his time in Burley was short, he made many friends who remember him with fondness.)