In memoriam: Colleagues remember Danny Woodward, avid runner who led executive communications at VCU

The award-winning speechwriter, who died this week at 43, is remembered for his professional excellence and “unmatchable character and kindness.”

Danny Woodward holding a cake.
Danny Woodward holding a cake celebrating his graduation from the leadership development program at VCU's Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute. (Courtesy photo)

When Danny Woodward competed in the Boston Marathon in 2019, many of his coworkers in VCU’s Division of University Relations followed his progress from Richmond at an office watch party, tracking his run live on a big-screen TV inside the sixth floor break room at Grace Street Center. Woodward had a way of inspiring that kind of camaraderie.

“Great leaders never have a bad day, and Danny was a great leader who was always positive and cared deeply about his colleagues,” said Pam Lepley, senior adviser to VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and a longtime colleague of Woodward’s.

Woodward, who served as executive director of executive communications for Virginia Commonwealth University, died Tuesday following a battle with brain cancer. He was 43.

He joined University Relations in February 2012. Woodward served as speechwriter for Rao and led the strategy and day-to-day operations of executive communications, including executive and university-level events, and special programs, such as commencement.

“Danny is a world-class professional who gave an authentic and positive voice to telling the story of VCU's unique mission and standing as a top public urban research university,” Rao said Wednesday. “His professional excellence was exceeded only by his unmatchable character and kindness. Words cannot capture how much we will miss him, but we have all gained tremendous wisdom from Danny about the things that matter in our lives.”

Lepley said Woodward will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

“His energy, enthusiasm and excellence in communications helped to raise the standing of our university and its mission, which he dearly loved,” she said. “We are all better people because of Danny.”

From left, Pam Lepley, Michael Rao and Danny Woodward.
From left, Pam Lepley, Michael Rao and Danny Woodward at a VCU event in 2015. (University Marketing)

Woodward came to Richmond after eight years as special assistant to the president at the University of Texas at Arlington. He previously worked as a staff writer at the Dallas Morning News and contributed freelance articles to ESPN.com and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He also worked at the Arlington Morning News in Texas between 1996 and 2000.

He was a founding member of the Professional Speechwriters Association, a member of the Washington Speechwriters Roundtable and a two-time winner of the Cicero Speechwriting Award, which honors the world’s best speeches in any field.

In 2013, Woodward won the speechwriter Ace Award from Ragan and PR Daily. In winning the award, Woodward, then special assistant for executive communications at VCU, described his goal for speechwriting: “Make sure his speaker looks like the smartest person in the room, no matter whom he’s sharing the stage with.”

“A speechwriting team of one, he writes everything from commencement speeches to congressional testimony,” the judges wrote. “Woodward’s words have been spoken before audiences in India, China, Colombia, Qatar, Italy, and at least a dozen U.S. states. His speakers share the stage with politicians, chief executives, actors, athletes, scientists, writers, and military commanders.”

Woodward also was the recipient of seven awards for speechwriting and multicultural communication from the Public Relations Society of America, as well as two awards for speechwriting from the higher education organization Council for Advancement and Support of Education - District III.

He graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2003 and a master’s degree in communication in 2005. The school recently created a scholarship in Woodward’s honor, in recognition of him being “the epitome of an outstanding graduate from the Department of Communication.”

VCU is also planning to commemorate Woodward’s life and lasting impact to the university.

Woodward was an accomplished marathoner. The 2019 Boston Marathon was his second and he finished with a time of 3:11:23. In total, he competed in six marathons, breaking the 3-hour barrier three times. After his first Boston Marathon, in 2017, he wrote an article for Active.com on the “26.2 Things I Learned from the Boston Marathon” that described his journey to the famous race. Among the lessons learned: remember your goal, a little motivation goes a long way, learn from the experience of others, and run your own race.

Woodward is survived by his wife, Monica, and his beloved dogs, Roxy and Ripley.

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