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Bill Wood, Founding Director of U.Va.’s Sorensen Institute, Dies at 69
November 18, 2012 | Marian Anderfuren
William H. Wood, the former newspaperman who became founding director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, died Nov. 16 at home. He was 69.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer's. Wood died only weeks after he and his wife Carol had moved to Birmingham, Ala., to be near their son and his family.
Wood launched the institute, an educational and training organization for Virginia's emerging political leaders, at U.Va. in 1993. Today, more than 1,000 Virginians have graduated from the Sorensen Institute's programs. Many of the graduates, who are of all political stripes, hold elected and appointed office in Virginia, from school boards to the state legislature.
Bob Gibson, who now directs the Sorensen, said he considers Wood his role model. "Bill could listen to anyone on any side of an issue and find points of agreement or common interest with them," he said. "Behind his mild manner lurked a wonderful sense of humor that could catch people by surprise because he could deliver any message with perfect timing and a deadpan delivery."
Wood stepped down as executive director of Sorensen in 2005, and was recognized with a joint resolution by the General Assembly, commending him for his long career in journalism and his leadership of the institute. He continued to work part time until 2007 as editor of the Virginia Newsletter and director of the publications division of the University's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
A well-known and widely respected journalist, Wood had spent 26 years in the newspaper business before coming to the University - the last 10 as editorial-page editor of The Virginian-Pilot. As a reporter and editor, he covered the Virginia General Assembly for two decades.
John O. Wynne of Virginia Beach, former CEO of Landmark Communications, which owned The Pilot, and former rector of the University, said Wood's editorial philosophy was a good fit with that of Landmark Chairman Frank Batten Sr. and publisher Perry Morgan.
"All of them hated editorial pages that stuck to ideologies - they were always predictable," he said. "They thought newspapers had to do fresh thinking about issues and really inform readers. Bill absolutely did that."
Like Morgan and Batten, Wood worked hard to make sure he was being fair, Wynne said.
Wood began his interest in politics when, as a 14-year-old in Luray, Va., he handed out campaign literature for the successful 1957 campaign of Gov. J. Lindsay Almond. After graduating from Duke University, where he was an editor at the student newspaper, he went to work at the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg.
In 1970, Wood joined The Ledger-Star in Norfolk and for the next 13 years covered police, courts, city councils and the General Assembly and served a stint as sports editor. In 1981, the Ledger merged with The Virginian-Pilot and Wood became the newspapers' second ombudsman. In 1983, he was named editorial page editor.
Gerald L. Baliles, former Virginia governor who now directs U.Va.'s Miller Center, knew Wood from his days in the General Assembly. He said Wood personified civility, sought to elevate and educate, and wrote with clarity and conciseness.
"He was courteous to all, even those with whom he shared a different opinion," Baliles said. "I valued his friendship and respected his judgment." He noted, with a smile in his voice, "I still treasure his endorsement when I ran for attorney general."
Wood, a pitcher for the Duke baseball team, loved the game and especially the Dodgers, starting when they were still in Brooklyn. He played a mean game of tennis, running opponents all over the court, and was fond of beach music, doo-wop and dancing.
In 2005, Wood, then 62, received a diagnosis of a type of dementia that took aim at his speaking, reading and writing abilities. As the old Bill began to fall away, his core remained - his sweetness, his laughter, and his jitterbug wiggle.
Wood is survived by his wife; their son, Zachary Mather, and daughter-in-law, Kate Mather; three grandchildren, Will, Julia and Griffin of Birmingham; and his sister, Sally Heath, of Charlottesville.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 2 p.m. in the University of Virginia chapel. It will be followed by a reception at Carr's Hill.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent in Wood's name to the Sorensen Institute, P.O. Box 400206, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4206.
Published on UVAToday on Nov. 18, 2012.
It is with a heavy heart and tears that we share the message that our dear friend and former Sorensen executive director Bill Wood passed away early this morning.
Immediate arrangements will occur in Birmingham, but there will be a service, and burial, at a later time in Charlottesville.
Through the help of Sorensen alumni and friends, we are helping a Virginia community center.
Thank you so much for your support thus far! Today we are delivering 495 donated items (books, magazines, games, jig saw puzzles and more) to the Harvey Hall Community Center. The Harvey Hall Community Center in Arlington, Va. is one of seven community centers in Arlington and one in Baltimore that works with more than 2,000 children and adults. Services include a wide variety of opportunities, from after-school programs to senior activities, to help improve residents lives. Harvey Hall also provides a teen tutoring and study hall, a project discovery summer camp and programs for seniors such as field trips to cultural sites and on-site luncheons that focus on health oriented topics.
We will continue to collect books the rest of this calendar year. If you have questions or would like to donate items, please contact Tracy Tanner Bond, Alumni Coordinator for Volunteer Events at (434) 982-4943.
We are pleased to announce that Sean T. O’Brien, former Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute, has been promoted to the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Montpelier Foundation. In this new position, Sean will address the needs of the growing organization as they implement their new strategic plan and build on the achievements of the last decade.
Sean has served as the Executive Director of the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier for the past 3-1/2 years. Sean holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Sean, his wife Anne and their 2 children live in Charlottesville.
The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia extends our condolences, prayers and best wishes to Ruth Sorensen Singer and Adam Sorensen and their families at the loss of Ted Sorensen, Ruth's brother and Adam's uncle. Ruth Sorensen Singer is a former board member and Adam is a current member of the Sorensen Institute's Statewide Advisory Board.
Ted Sorensen, the brother of the late Tom Sorensen, after whom the Sorensen Institute is named, was an inspiring author, speechwriter and adviser to President John F. Kennedy. Ted Sorensen was well known for his wit and wisdom and was a great supporter of the institute bearing his brother's name.
The 2008 public television documentary "Across the Aisle" will be broadcast on Thursday, Sept. 16th at 9:00pm on WCVE and WHTJ public television stations in Richmond and Charlottesville and again on Tuesday, Sept. 21st at 9:00pm on WCVE Richmond. The documentary follows the Sorensen Institute's Political Leaders Program Class of 2007 during its 10-month program across Virginia. The broadcast comes as the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership is recruiting applicants for the 2011 Political Leaders Program Class as well as the 2011 Candidate Training Program. Applications for both programs are being accepted at the Sorensen Institute's website until 5:00pm on Nov. 8th. For more information, visit www.sorenseninstitute.org.
The documentary was produced courtesy of a $100,000 gift from Albemarle County resident Fred Scott. Asked about the upcoming broadcast, Scott said, "Combine the best of Public Television leadership and producer/directorship skills with great academic leadership and a documentary is born. John Casteen, former President of UVA, took only a few minutes to understand and approve our Charlottesville PBS station manager's idea to produce "Across The Aisle," the story of a year-long Sorensen class. Editorial restrictions? None. We have been impressed by producer Paul Roberts' work and we trust our University's reputation to him." Scott added, "For me, watching a gem of an idea...one that began in a quiet conversation on my front porch...develop into a full blown documentary that 'gets it right' about Sorensen, has been a joyous journey."