Like other legends we know, Woody’s voice will always be with us.
The way Woody Durham and his family handled his recent diagnosis is like he called UNC games in the heyday of his 40-year career as Voice of the Tar Heels. Perfectly.
Friends and those who heard Woody speak in recent years knew something was amiss, and while he was trying to find out exactly what, his family made the decision that he would no longer be in the public eye. No more speaking engagements or appearances while they learned why all the words weren’t coming out just right.
As we now know, Woody has primary progressive cognitive aphasia, a condition in a part of the brain that does not allow thoughts to translate into spoken or written words seamlessly. Primary is the key adjective here, because under the care of Dr. Jim Kurz at UNC, Woody may be able to live a next-to-normal life in retirement. He’ll see you, recognize you and say hello, but he may not say much more.
That’s okay; Woody has said enough as the umbilical cord to Carolina sports for two generations. And, with the advent of ESPN and other cable channels ad nauseam, no more radio broadcasters will grow into legends of his ilk. Too many people are now watching the tube.
Woody is the third of a Hall of Fame trio that was stricken with a cognitive impairment. He and Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge spent so much time together over four decades that you can’t help but wonder whether they ate at the wrong restaurant or drank from the same bad water fountain too many times.
Smith passed away in February of last year after a long battle with progressive dementia. His memory was so keen for facts, names and faces, and was such a thorough thinker, that it was almost as if he wore out his mind. Guthridge had the sharpest wit of the three, and could only crack an occasional one-liner before his death three months after Smith’s.
Now, in the ultimate irony, the Voice of the Tar Heels can no longer put long iambic pentameters together that became household phrases, words like Go Where You Go and Do What You Do.
We’ve already missed that distinctive and stylistic voice over the last few years, but Woody’s own courageous confession has given all of us more reason to remember it forever.
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