KLOPFER: Remembering Dean Woodard

No one had ever believed I could be a writer. My parents were supportive, but that’s what parents are supposed to do. No one had ever really read through something I had written, looked at me and said “You can do this.” That is, until I had Dean Leslie Woodard as a teacher.

I took Dean Woodard’s “Intro to Writing Fiction” class the fall of my sophomore year. She took my patched stories, sat down with them and calmly began to edit them. They needed a lot of help. But never once did Dean Woodard look at me with a patronizing smile and suggest I look for a new profession. She coached me through the class and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses, but never wavered in her belief that one day I too could become a writer. I was not unique in having Dean Woodard believe in my dreams when my hope had faltered.

To Dean Woodard, we members of Calhoun were not just her students — we were her children. She took us in as freshmen and called us her “babies,” and demonstrated her affection throughout our time here.

I grew up 4,000 miles away from Yale, but Dean Woodard made me feel at home here in Calhoun just as I felt back in Alaska. During finals she told us that everything would be OK, that our teachers were not evil and that the world was not going to end. She comforted everyone from frantic freshmen to job-worried seniors.

There was a kind of magic around Dean Woodard. She had a way of calling you into her office that made you feel as if she had been looking forward to your meeting all week. She enlivened Monday evening Calhoun College Council meetings by making announcements — which she called “the Woodard Word” — telling us that Hounies are the best. And she fostered community in the college with her unfailing sense of humor. When she welcomed us in as freshmen, she warned us against the punch at fraternity parties and advised us, “ginger ale will always be your best friend.” After her candlelight vigil Monday night, my classmates and I toasted to her with cups of ginger ale.

Dean Woodard drew energy and bliss from interactions with her students. When my suitemates and I grabbed our usual table for dinner Saturday before the inaugural ball, Dean Woodard asked if she could join us. There was something so endearing in the way she said, “Can I join you ladies? Don’t worry, I won’t interrupt your conversations.” But Dean Woodard could never be an interruption. Within moments, she was asking us questions about our lives, completely enthralled with our tales.

When she passed away unexpectedly, the shocked faces and tears made it clear how many lives she had touched. Walking back into the courtyard this afternoon, I overheard a fellow junior on the phone.

“Calhoun is such a great community. This will be hard, but we’re all going to be there for each other,” she said.

Without Dean Woodard as our leader, that sense of community spirit would not exist. And because of the strong bonds she has fostered, members of our college will come together and comfort one another in the face of tragedy. In the coming weeks, the Calhoun family can pay tribute to Dean Woodard by honoring the values she believed in — compassion, support and positivity.

Even as I write this column, I am strengthened by the encouragement Dean Woodard gave me, and the time she invested in me as a writer. My ability to pay tribute to her through writing is a testament to her power as a mentor, and to the lasting legacy she leaves.

As the Calhoun family came together tonight to drink ginger ale, I only wish she could have been there to share in the experience.

Emily Klopfer is a junior in Calhoun College and a former copy editor for the News. Contact her at emily.klopfer@yale.edu.

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