Cover photo for William Crawford Woods's Obituary
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William Crawford Woods

March 30, 1944 — February 25, 2023

West Chester, PA

William Crawford Woods

William Crawford Woods

February 25, 2023, of West Chester, PA, age 78, spouse of Joan Woolfrey, after a very short fight with cancer, died peacefully at home with as many family and friends as could get there in time. He is remembered lovingly as the son of Arthur R. Woods, Jr., and Louise Crawford Woods. He was born in Philadelphia, eleven years after his beloved older brother Arthur R. Woods, III. He spent his early years in Hertford, NC, his “ancestral home,” grew up in the D.C. area, and went to college at UNC-Chapel Hill and George Washington University.  He served in the military (1966-68) as a Vietnam-era Spc. IV military journalist and radio DJ for the Far East Network-Tokyo (FEN), following in the footsteps of the infamous Adrian Cronauer.  

Briefly married to artist Molly Van Nice, he earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University by finishing his novel The Killing Zone, published to critical acclaim in 1970. Ever the writer and artist, he began working as a reporter for The Washington Post (its first rock critic—one of the first in the nation), and writing stories for Esquire, Playboy, The Atlantic Monthly, and others. He worked for a time as a screenwriter for Otto Preminger in Hollywood, and as a music and TV critic. He published nonfiction in Harper’s, Rolling Stone, and several other places. His 1972 review in The New York Times of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which he called “the best book of the dope decade,” helped that book become recognized as a benchmark in American literature.

His relationship through 1975 with Corinne Browne, author of Body Shop: Recuperating from Vietnam (1973) and others, informed her 1981 book Casualty: A Memoir of Love and War, though artistic license deleted him from the narrative. Continuing to write and review, he eventually came to teach at Longwood College (University) in Farmville, VA, where he married Pamela Kellett in 1979, founded the Dos Passos Prize for Literature, and remained until his retirement in 2001. He and Pam lived across the street from dear friends Jim and Teri Kidd, and in the lives of the Kidds’ children Milan and Marian, he became a monumental figure known reverentially as “Dapper.” He doted on them with all the power of his being. Pam went on to have two children, Christopher and Emma, whom William adored with a depth that would “make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” 

Treasuring his infirmities and drawing inspiration from them for his writing, he memorialized his bout with lupus, acquired at the age of 56, in an unpublished novella, All Over Red Wolf. He followed his soon-to-be ultimate spouse, Joan, to West Chester, PA, as she pursued her career as a philosophy professor.  Well-traveled, with a penchant for the National Parks System, the pair became–in his imagination and in the pages of travel notes that are the basis for an unfinished work of fiction–Adventure Guy and Sage Companion. The outdoors, says a characteristically distressed Adventure Guy, is unsettling because “there’s no door to close.” Moreover, when camping, “everything takes 12 more steps.”
His last completed work, Stand in the Fire: Three American Soldiers and Their Wars, 1900-1950, an historically based work of creative nonfiction, will be published posthumously by University of Kansas Press in June. A labor of love that was inspired by the boxes of letters saved by the women in his family from the men in their lives who heeded the call of duty, the book was his way of paying a debt to those ancestors for his own (in his mind) insufficient military service, which he called “brief, bloodless, and largely comic.”

He is also survived by beloved nephews William W. Woods (Kerrville, TX), Walter Johnson (Dallas, TX), and their families; and a motley, extraordinary cohort who cherished his friendship and literary acumen, including nearly lifelong friends Toby Thompson, John Douglass, and Thomas Beach, professional musicians Jim and Teri Kidd, and longtime friends Don and Linda Mooring, and Wally and Terry Andrews. Mention must be made of his beloved therapist and interlocutor Robert Anderson, LCSW, who saved his last marriage a multitude of times, and shared such a love of books and film that, in the view of many who observed from a distance, there could never have existed a finer match between therapist and client.

He is predeceased by his parents, brother and sisters-in-law, and treasured nephew Arthur (“Owie”) R. Woods, IV.

We are planning to celebrate (and w[h]ine a little about) his remarkable life on May 7th in Farmville, VA. Please join us in Wygal Hall on the campus of Longwood University (201 High St.) beginning at 4pm on the 7th. (A virtual option is still in the works.) Contact if you’re interested in saying a few words or playing music (recorded or live). In lieu of flowers, please tip the bartender at the event! 

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of William Crawford Woods, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Celebration of Life

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Starts at 4:00 pm (Eastern time)

Wygal Hall, Longwood University

201 High Street, Farmville, VA 23909

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