Woody Durham, who served as the play-by-play voice for UNC athletics for 40 years, has died at the age of 76. Family members confirmed that Durham passed away peacefully at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Durham retired from the Tar Heel Sports Network in 2011 after four decades behind the microphone calling UNC games on WCHL and other affiliates across the state.
He announced through an open letter distributed by the university in 2016 that he had been diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder, primary progressive aphasia. Durham spent his remaining years raising awareness for the disorder. Shirts with Durham’s popular phrase “Go Where You Go and Do What You Do” were printed and sold at local clothing stores to raise money to research primary progressive aphasia.
Durham graduated from UNC in 1963 and went on to call more than 1,800 broadcasts on the Tar Heel Sports Network.
Durham won North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year 13 times and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame honored Durham in 2015 with the Curt Gowdy Award. Durham was also recently elected to the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame.
Durham’s son Wes served as the play-by-play voice for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for many years and is now in that role for the ACC Network calling games for teams across the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Our family is grateful for the incredible support my dad and our family received throughout his illness,” Wes Durham said in a release. “From the medical teams to the general public, it’s been amazing. We hold to and will always cherish the wonderful memories he left for our family and Carolina fans throughout the world.”
UNC head coach Roy Williams issued a statement through UNC:
“It’s a very sad day for everyone who loves the University of North Carolina because we have lost someone who spent nearly 50 years as one of its greatest champions and ambassadors. My heart goes out to Jean, Wes, Taylor and their entire family.
“It’s ironic that Woody would pass away at the start of the postseason in college basketball because this was such a joyous time for him. He created so many lasting memories for Carolina fans during this time of year. It’s equally ironic that he dealt with a disorder for the final years of his life that robbed him of his ability to communicate as effectively as he did in perfecting his craft.
“Woody loved the Tar Heels and players, coaches and fans of all ages loved him right back. We should all ‘go where we go and do what we do’ and say a prayer for Woody and his family. There will never be another quite like him.”
UNC alumnus and ACC commissioner John Swofford issued the following statement:
“Woody was synonymous with Carolina Athletics for decades and his voice was gospel to generations of Tar Heels who trusted his every word,” says John Swofford, Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Director of Athletics at UNC from 1980-97. “I was struck by how diligently Woody prepared for his broadcast of games. When game time arrived, he made it look and sound so easy because he had a voice that resonated just so, but much of it was because he worked incredibly hard at it. As they say ‘the great ones make it look easy’. Woody was one of the great ones. He was just as good a person as he was a broadcaster.
“My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of the entire Atlantic Coast Conference, go out to Jean, Wes, Taylor and the entire Durham family.”
Three-time All-American and 1978 National Player of the Year Phil Ford remembered Durham’s calls of Ford’s playing days in Chapel Hill.
“‘Rocky Mount junior running one-hander is good.’
When I think of Woody Durham, the Voice of the Tar Heels, so many memories flash though my mind. For UNC fans of football and basketball, it’s both the knowledge of the game and the passion in Woody’s voice that set him apart. For those of us who knew Woody, we knew he put in as much preparation for each game as did the players and coaches. That is dedication you don’t see any more.
The proud tradition that has always been UNC Athletics has been made stronger over the years because of Woody. He was there when we celebrated national championships, bowl victories and disappointing losses. Coaches and players have come and gone, but that solid Carolina voice was always there to reassure the Tar Heel family.
I’ve watched and played a lot of basketball, but I have never seen anything like our student section during a game begin to chant softly – ‘Woody, Woody, Woody’ until the entire crowd is screaming Woody Durham’s name. It is that respect that will stay with the Tar Heel faithful and me forever.
On behalf of this former Rocky Mount Tar Heel, thank you Woody. Thank you to the Durham family. And thank you to the University of North Carolina for allowing Woody to spread Tar Heel excitement from Murphy to Manteo.”
Jim Heavner, former WCHL owner who also owned the Tar Heel Sports Network broadcast rights until 1999, issued a statement reflecting on the life of Durham.
“When UNC was playing and the microphone came on, Woody was the best there ever was. His preparation was legendary and his voice became synonymous with Carolina football and basketball for a generation. I am profoundly sad at the passing of a colleague whose work set the standard for all the rest of us who worked with him. He really was a Carolina treasure taken away from us too soon.”
UNC opens its ACC Tournament slate in Brooklyn on Wednesday night against Syracuse.
A celebration of Woody’s life is planned for Sunday, April 8, at Carmichael Arena on the UNC campus.
Officials said memorial gifts may be made to the following:
Medical Foundation of NC
For Woody Durham Fund
PO Box 1050
Chapel Hill NC 27514
287 East Street, Suite 221
Pittsboro NC 27312