As play-by-play announcer for North Carolina athletics for 40 years, Woody Durham's voice made him who he was.
In Carmichael Arena on Sunday, though — in the same place where he turned moments into memories throughout much of his career — the 13-time North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year, who died at 76 last month, couldn’t speak for himself.
So instead, in a memorial service open to the public that celebrated the life of Durham, others spoke for him. Among them were current and former administrators of UNC, leaders of the state and others close to him.
Chancellor Carol Folt, who was the first of the special speakers at the commemoration, said that Durham’s “familiar, warm voice” was one of the iconic symbols of the University's history.
“I think that’s wonderful to be able to celebrate,” she said, “because he was not only able to be a part of (people's) lives in the moment, but every time they heard him, he brought back memories of their own Carolina experiences, wherever they were.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper also spoke. The UNC alum shared a story that described his relationship with of one of Durham’s most famous phrases: “Go where you go, and do what you do.”
“With the 1993 championship run, I got into the habit of (putting) my little 3-month-old daughter, Natalie, in a Carolina blue sweatsuit and putting her in a swing four and a half feet from the television,” Cooper said.
On the night of the championship, Cooper returned home just after the game had started from a long day of work. After scanning his daughter’s room for the sweatsuit Natalie had worn throughout the tournament, he learned that it was still wet in the dryer.
“(My wife) said, ‘You can’t put that on her,’” Cooper recalled. “I said, ‘Yes I can. I must!’
“You may think that we won the national championship in 1993 because of Dean Smith or Eric Montross or George Lynch or ‘the Donald’ or Chris Webber’s timeout. But no, it was because there was a little baby in a damp Carolina blue jumpsuit in a swing because Woody told me to put her there.”
The speeches were delivered in front of a crowd of approximately 300 people — composed of UNC fans, students and members of Tar Heel coaching staffs. The kind words not only hit on his decorated career as a broadcaster and his loving and admirable character that made him so special, but also the legacy Durham has left at UNC.
“He was the voice,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “He walked with kings, but never lost his common touch.”
Former North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said that if academics and intellectual pursuits lay at the center of the University’s proverbial house, athletics was its front porch. And Durham will always have his own chair.
“Woody loved the University of North Carolina,” Baddour said. “It’s often said that institutions don’t love back. Clearly that was not the case with Woody.”
North Carolina men’s basketball head coach Roy Williams couldn’t be physically present for the service because he was on a recruiting trip, but a video of him speaking played on the screens in Carmichael Arena.
Reverend Lynda Ferguson, who was beside Durham’s bed with his wife, Jean, when he died, spoke and read scripture. Former interview subject and later coworker, Eric Montross, and former head football coach John Bunting also shared some words.
Wes Durham, Woody’s son, was the last guest speaker of the event. Throughout his professional life, Wes was uniquely situated as someone who connected with Woody as a colleague and a member of his family.
“The endearing quality that my dad gave to me was loyalty,” Wes said. "To this day, it’s the first thing that I think of when I’m asked about him ...
“At the same time, I’d be remiss if I don’t thank you on behalf of our family for your loyalty to my dad. And that’s never been caught more than in the last month.”
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