“I call him my best friend.”
Bill Hoover met Woody Durham in the 1960s when they were both involved with the GGO — the Greater Greensboro Open golf tournament, now known as the Windham Championship.
“I graduated from UNC and went to Greensboro in 1961,” said Hoover from his Asheboro home. “Woody graduated from UNC in 1963 and moved to Greensboro in 1964. We met each other in Greensboro.”
Woody, as everybody called the “Voice of the Tar Heels,” died March 7 after battling a condition that stole the voice all UNC fans loved. He was the play-by-play announcer for University of North Carolina football and basketball games from 1971 to 2011.
A special celebration of Woody’s life was held this past Sunday at Carmichael Arena on the UNC campus. Bill and wife Ann were there to support Woody’s wife Jean and their sons, Wes and Taylor.
Also on hand was the Rev. Lynda Ferguson, pastor of Asheboro’s First United Methodist Church. She read a scripture and gave her own remembrances of Woody as part of the program.
A UNC graduate herself, Lynda came to know Woody and Jean after Bill told her about their long-time friendship. Lynda met the Durhams at a UNC basketball game in January as they sat in their seats next to the Hoovers. That meeting developed into a relationship with Woody and Jean, and Lynda soon visited them at their home in Chapel Hill.
Bill and Woody were brought together thanks to the opening of WGHP in High Point. The new station was looking for a known personality and convinced Charlie Harvell, the sports anchor at WFMY, to move to Channel 8.
That had Channel 2 scrambling for someone to replace Harvell. Hoover said C.D. Chesley, the TV producer of ACC basketball games who had known Woody at UNC, suggested to WFMY that they give his friend a try. Woody was working at South Carolina TV station at the time.
“Within two months, everybody forgot Charlie,” Bill said.
In 1969, Bill was general chairman of the Jaycees-sponsored GGO. He and Woody would travel to the Doral in Florida to recruit pros to play in Greensboro. While there, Woody would film interviews with players, then play the interviews on his sports show back in Greensboro.
“We got to know each other with the GGO,” said Bill. “We played tennis and golf together. Woody and I had a good relationship and we were very close.”
That friendship extended to their wives as Ann and Jean became best friends as well. Their families often vacationed together and Jean eventually began sitting with the Hoovers at UNC football and basketball games while Woody was doing play-by-play.
Eventually, Woody was coming to Asheboro every year to team up with Bill in the RCS Celebrity Golf Tournament.
“Everybody loved Woody,” said Bill. “He was always kind to people and I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone.
“He was Woody to everybody. They just loved him. When he would come to dinner (at an event), everybody quit talking because they wanted to listen to him. Even when he couldn’t talk, people would come up to see him at games.”
Bill recalls a story that occurred after Woody became involved with the Tar Heels Sports Network. The two couples and one other pair were preparing for a cotillion in which there would be a costume contest.
“Woody got the warmup suits of UNC’s 1957 national championship basketball team,” Bill recalled. “We dressed in the warmups and Woody was in a suit as Coach Frank McGuire. We tied for first place.
“I still don’t know how he got those warmups.”
The last few weeks of Woody’s life were difficult, Bill said. “I saw him going down over a period. At the end, it really hurt. It was really hard.”
Bill and Ann last saw Woody the night before he died. They visited him and left for Asheboro at 7 p.m. The next day Bill’s best friend was gone.
Lynda also visited Woody the day before he died. She had been ministering to the family during his illness.
“I was honored to be there to help,” Lynda said.
As at the celebration, she talked about being a student at UNC in the early 1980s and remembering that Woody was loved by the students. At games, they would chant “Woody, Woody,” until he waved at them.
“You felt that he was a part of your family,” she said.
Later, as pastor at Asheboro’s First Methodist, Lynda learned of the Hoovers’ connection with the Durhams. Through that connection she was able to meet Woody and build a relationship with him.
“I also became close to Jean, such a dear person,” said Lynda. “I was grateful for developing a friendship and relationship with the family. And witnessing Bill’s friendship with Woody and Ann’s relationship with Jean. They truly are best friends and talk every day.
“And it was a great honor to be part of the service.”
“Now we talk about the memories,” said Bill. “We think about the good things.”
He also talked about how Jean has developed a strong relationship with Lynda.
“She thinks a lot of Lynda and wants to be part of this church,” Bill said. “Jean said, ‘I’m going to go to Asheboro and see her and to go to your church.’ She’ll be here Sunday.”
Bill didn’t say it, but it’s a given that Woody will be there as well.
Larry Penkava, who has written Now and Then since 1994, misses the “Voice of the Tar Heels.”