An oration delivered at the funeral of of Woody Bledsoe, Saturday, October 7, 1995, by Robert S. Boyer. (Woody died on October 4, 1995.)
As we mourn the death of Woody Bledsoe, we also mourn our own loss of a noble friend.
We try our best to empathize with the incalculable loss to his family, whom he loved so dearly.
The sadness we feel is great.
I feel that I have lost not only a friend and mentor but someone who has been as a father to me for 30 years.
Recognizing that our fixed period of life on this earth is an inevitable cause of sadness, I propose that we, for our own inspiration and consolation, rejoice as we reflect upon the life of Woody Bledsoe, who offers to us that all too rare specimen, an example of a life lived beautifully, productively, and brilliantly in the service of God.
From almost the beginning of our acquaintance, I came to regard Woody as a paradigm of the life lived according to virtue, and I would like to reflect upon but a few of the many virtues that I have observed in him.
I'm sure there are many here who knew him better than I, and could add much more.
Let me start with the virtue of humility.
Woody was a person of exceptional achievement and acclaim: bishop, even patriarch in this church; distinguished scientist; corporate vice-president.
But on a placard on his desk was a favorite quotation of his: There is no limit to how much good can be done if no one worries about who gets the credit.
I believe he kept this motto before him at all times. Woody rarely mentioned his own achievements or his own contributions.
Though I thought I had known him well for 24 years, when I started to write a biographical sketch of him, I was astonished at how many amazing accomplishments of his I found out only through interrogation.
But Woody endlessly praised the work of others. I believe he had a personal policy of remembering, even for decades, special accomplishments of everyone he knew and of telling everyone else about them whenever he got the chance, a kind of PR firm for us all, building confidence and hope.
What he was really doing was leavening society with good will for all towards all.
Let me move on to the virtue of fortitude, the strength to remain effective in the face of grave difficulty.
Let us begin with some early facts.
Woody saw some really hard times as a youth, and it is a special tribute to him that he came through things so remarkably strong.
At an early age, Woody suffered the death of his father and consequently knew the realities of poverty, even hunger. As an adult, he saw firsthand the death and destruction of war as he helped engineer Patton's move across the Rhine.
He knew both firsthand and by extensive systems analysis what a hydrogen bomb explosion could do.
He suffered the death of two children.
In the realm of science he had the courage of the explorer, the courage to open up new doors of knowledge by being one of the first in at least three separate scientific fields.
One should not underestimate the degree of courage associated with opening up a new branch of knowledge as opposed to merely cultivating the fields of an established area.
Scientific exploration is a place where the moral virtue of fortitude is crucial.
And, finally, Woody showed great courage in fighting ALS -- teaching until he could no longer speak, advising students and doing research until he could no longer move.
Let me next turn to the virtue of faith. Woody had a vision of the world, of man, and of science that was utterly positive, hopeful, and certain of good things to come.
He had no use for the cynical, for a depressing vision of hopelessness, for feeble goals, or declining objectives.
He never revealed to me a hint of discouragement in hundreds of conversations. To emphasize that I really mean this, let me note that the closest I ever saw him come to a discouraged remark, and I was shocked even to hear it from him, was once a statement by him that he would never again try to use a certain bureaucracy to solve a certain problem.
He knew things can change in a big way, and fast.
He did not care much for the minor improvement but always sought the really new and major.
Because he knew it could happen.
He had seen the Great Depression end, had participated in the advent of the nuclear age and in the birth of the computer age. He knew that utterly amazing change is within reach if people will reach for it.
Woody simply saw no role for the expression of the negative.
This sometimes created a minor problem for Woody's friends.
If you had need of an appraisal of someone else, then calibrating Woody's inevitable praise was not easy.
You knew that Woody was going to say something good, even if you suspected he believed the person in question was a no account.
Probably, Woody didn't think that anyone was a no account.
I hope that I have not painted Woody as some remote paragon by mentioning humility, fortitude, and faith.
Woody was the soul of joy, the soul of happiness, a wonderful practitioner of that greatest virtue, charity.
He seemed to extract a joy from living and working that was to me unfair, unjustifiable in view of all the bad things of life.
It is a mystery to me how Woody could have been so happy. Though strong and firm in his moral character, he made people love him by his good works and his extraordinarily friendly spirit.
His kindness to my own children was exceptional.
They regarded him as a grandfather.
But I suspect he remembered and cherished every child and spouse of every student, of every friend. There were so many.
Woody once confessed to me that he simply found it nearly impossible to refuse to take on a student who sought his supervision.
My favorite recollection of Woody, from over two decades ago, is of his departing from the middle of a very hectic day as a chairman, teacher, researcher, and advisor to meet a wayward youth at a bus station to help the youth return home, all as part of his ministry work as bishop in this church.
In the time of my own greatest needs, Woody was my counsel and pastor, even sage.
His kind spirit said "things are good and yet they will be much better."
My guess is that he knew as a fact what so many have heard but not believed, that a life of hard work spent giving is the true, and perhaps only, path to happiness.
Since ancient times, virtue has seemed a mystery. It is so hard to learn, so hard to teach.
Yet let us ask, what was the basis of this exemplary life of virtue we find in Woody Bledsoe?
How did you do it Woody?
I know Woody's answer, and with 100% certainty, because he told me on a number of occasions. The foundation of his whole life was his love for family and his faith in God through this church.
My last memory of Woody was his request for a prayer.
We did the Our Father.
As we think of Woody today, let us all have the strength to say:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.