The Deseret News for many years honored one staff member annually with its Mark E. Petersen Excellence in Writing Award. Initially, the award was judged by a panel of outside professional journalists, but the same man kept winning, and there was little reason to expect that pattern to change.
It was under the careful and caring eye of that man, Don C. Woodward, that more than a generation of Utah journalists have honed their craft. He was the man that reporters, editors and photographers turned to for advice that was sometimes sage, sometimes fatherly and always focused closely on being ethical and doing what’s right.
Woodward, 86, former Deseret News managing editor and longtime award-winning journalist, died Sept. 18, 2022, at home in Bountiful, Utah.
When he was young, he turned a stint as editor of the Provo High School student newspaper into the beginning of a long career, earning a degree at Brigham Young University, where he met his future wife in a class on reporting. He and Julie Anne Pingree married in 1962 and had three children: Leslie, Jane and Clay Woodward.
As word of Woodward’s death spread among former and current Deseret News staff members this week, tributes poured in. If one were keeping score, the most-used descriptors were “kind,” “ethical” and “a real gentleman.”
“He was an amazing journalist, boss and friend,” said page designer Heidi Perry. “He taught me how to put words with pictures to help tell compelling stories through design. I was lucky enough to be able to ride my bike into work with him and others. Thank you, Don, for your kindness.”
“Don was a reporter’s editor. He respected — and supported — those who worked for him. I think we all loved how he maintained his solid commitment to excellence — without being overbearing,” said Richard D. Hall, himself a retired Deseret News managing editor. “The Deseret News is better for what Don did for, and brought to, that storied organization.”
For years, Woodward wrote an in-house newsletter he called “Write On!” that lauded good work, offered work-related tips and shared staff news. He was also awarded a professional journalism fellowship at Stanford University.
Even in retirement, Woodward’s ties to journalism — and to journalists — remained strong.
“He was a real gentleman and one who deeply appreciated the writing craft. He still contacted me occasionally over the years, usually with some kind words about a story I had written,” said longtime Deseret News sportswriter and columnist Doug Robinson. “He used to oversee the feature section at the DN and was a real pro. And he was always pleasant — despite being an editor.”
Feature writer Elaine Jarvik, now a playwright, remembers him as “the gentlest of men, a firm editor who always led with a kind heart — and open to every crazy story idea I ever had.”
When he retired in 2000, columnist Jerry Johnston wrote that Woodward’s “ear for English has added grace to many features and columns. His news sense has brought a measure of quality to the news. But most of all, his generous, personal style has set a tone of civility at the newspaper and in the community.”
Even competitors knew journalism was losing an artist when Woodward retired. “I knew Don when we were reporters,” wrote Bob Woody, a Salt Lake Tribune reporter. “We often covered the same events. I was ever astonished by his accuracy and civility. He never compromised substance to ego, cleverness or laziness. He never indulged petulance or surliness. We have lost a good and gentle ‘gentleman of the press’ in the retirement of Don Woodward, Deseret News managing editor. A real pro.”
“Don was a great boss,” said Robert Noyce, former art director for the Deseret News. “He knew how to bring out the best in his coworkers without leaning on them. He was the most kind and gentle person I ever met.”
Reminiscing before his retirement, Woodward noted that he’d interviewed J.C. Penney among other notables and once flew aboard a 747 before it was certified. He saw stories in ordinary — and extraordinary — occurrences, including what it’s like to be effectively trapped on a three-day cruise during a hurricane.
Born in Price, Utah, on April 3, 1936 to Don Carlos and Wyoma Lynn Woodward (he was the fourth generation of sons named Don Carlos), Woodward grew up in Arizona and Nevada before his family moved to Provo.
Prior to working at the Deseret News, he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Finland, then became part of the Utah National Guard’s 142nd Military Intelligence Linguist Unit.
In retirement, Woodward made time for painting and woodworking, church service, friends and travel. In August, his family took a final trip together to Laguna Beach.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Bountiful 30th Ward, 650 E. 2150 South, Bountiful. Visitation will be in the same location Friday, Sept. 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. and from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. Saturday, prior to the service.