Longtime Modesto educator and arts advocate Lewis Woodward died March 5. He was 85.
Woodward taught for nearly 25 years at Modesto Junior College, where he became the head of the voice department and founded the Opera Theatre. He also was a staple in the community arts scene as an active performer and supporter for decades.
“He was a great personality and teacher,” said former colleague and friend Jim Johnson, who taught and acted alongside Woodward at MJC. “He was a great storyteller and charming man. He was a very dynamic actor, too. He was just one of the greatest people I have ever had contact or association with. We’re going to miss him dearly.”
Born Nov. 27, 1928, in Fort Worth, Texas, Woodward earned a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Texas. He was the head of the voice department at Tarleton State University and Southwestern University in Texas before moving to Modesto in 1974.
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Woodward and his wife, Shirley Woodward, came to MJC together – him to teach voice, and her piano. During his quarter-century at the college, Woodward directed more than 40 productions and had leading roles in numerous musicals and operas. He retired in 1997.
During his tenure, he taught and directed everyone from Broadway actor Jeremy Stolle, who is starring in “The Phantom of the Opera,” to two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner.
“He was a great vocal music instructor. He has students who went on to professional careers in opera and Broadway,” said Johnson, who is now the arts education coordinator at the Gallo Center for the Arts. “He really touched so many lives as a teacher.”
As a performer, Woodward even impressed his older brother, veteran screen actor Morgan Woodward. Known for his roles in “Dallas” and “Cool Hand Luke,” the elder Woodward, now 88, came to see his younger brother perform at MJC in the 1980s.
“His brother, Morgan Woodward, was a Hollywood actor. He came up to see Lewis in a Eugene O’Neill play and was amazed. He said, ‘I don’t know if I could do that.’ ”
After retiring, Woodward stayed active in the community in the arts and social causes. He had leadership roles in groups including the local chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, and the Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education & Support Network.
In 1999, Woodward and his wife were jointly honored as the Arts Educators of the Year at the inaugural Stanislaus Arts Council Awards.
Woodward is survived by his wife of 57 years, Shirley; his two sons, Kevin and Mike; and two granddaughters, Maya and Casey.
There will be a remembrance of his life at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the MJC recital hall. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to any charity he supported, including the MJC Foundation Friends of Music Scholarship, the Sierra Club and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.