Woody Durham, the beloved announcer of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 40 years, officially retired Wednesday at a press conference in Chapel Hill. The sport – and Tar Heel nation -- is poorer for it.
Like a regional version of Madonna or Prince, Woody has long been known by only one name by Tar Heel fans. His first year as “Voice of the Tar Heels” came in 1971, and the first UNC basketball team he did the play-by-play for went to the Final Four on the coattails of Bob McAdoo.
Tar Heel fans have long known – and sometimes gently mimicked – Woody’s vocal style. Woody loved working in the names of athletes’ hometowns, once telling me the reason he always said someone was “a soph-o-more from Waynesboro” or a “junior from Staunton, Va.” was because someone in Waynesboro or Staunton was listening and it would make them feel proud all over again of their hometown.
Meticulously prepared, Woody was a joy to listen to for both football and basketball. It was comforting to hear his voice on the radio -- it felt like a constant, like a little something that was OK in the world no matter what else was going wrong.
Woody was also a walking UNC Wikipedia. I once asked him to write a foreword for a book I wrote on the history of Tar Heel basketball, along with 30 more minutes of his time to help me along with several of the chapters I was writing.
I called Woody at the appointed time. He had notes at the ready, and we ended up talking for two hours and 15 minutes. He also wrote and revised his first-person foreword carefully, and it ended up being the best part of that book. It started like this: “I admit it. I am extremely fortunate. In the spring of 1971, I got an opportunity to do something that would define my career in broadcasting.”
Woody has done things like that for journalism students, reporters and countless others just wanting “a couple of minutes of his time” over 40 years. He has emceed countless charity events. My father-in-law, along with countless other Carolina fans, has long kept the TV sound down and Woody turned up in his living room for UNC games.
Woody certainly he deserves to leave whenever he wants to, on his own terms. And I'm glad he's doing that. But I sure will miss him.