Erna Woodward

Erna Julie Woodward
February 13, 1941 – September 10, 2019

Erna Julie Woodward of Winston-Salem, NC, beloved wife and mother, passed peacefully away at home on September 10, 2019. Erna was born on February 13, 1941 in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Louis and Louise Weiner. She was raised in Grand Rapids and loved vacations to Lake Michigan. She became an accomplished pianist at an early age, winning a Grand Rapids junior’s piano competition as an 8th grader. Erna graduated from Grand Rapids Central High School and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Michigan. She met her future husband in Shakespeare class. She initially worked as an elementary school teacher and later became a Certified Public Accountant.

Enra will be remembered as a nurturing mother who favored creativity and self-fulfillment for her children. Erna is survived by her husband of 56 years, Donald J. Woodward, Ph.D. a neuroscientist; her children Julie (m. Gary Gross) Ann Woodward M.D., Oculofacial Surgeon and Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke University; Daniel Woodward, M.D., Pediatric Cardiac Anesthesiologist at Oregon Health Science Center; and Karen (m. Keith Garcia) Woodward, MFA, artist in residence Austin, Texas; sister Toby Weiner Dolinka, brother Aron Weiner, four grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Her parents preceded her in death.  [Obituary for Erna Julie Woodward appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal on 9/20/19]

A traditional Jewish funeral service was held in Winston-Salem on September 12. Her eulogy is printed below. Condolences may be left online below. Cards of condolence may be sent to Donald Woodward at 3811 Guinevere Ln, Winston-Salem, NC 27104.


Eulogy for Erna Woodward, 9/12/2019
Prepared by Rabbi Andrew Ettin

Erna was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Lake Michigan was her happy place. Well, one of her happy places, because another was at the piano keyboard.

She was born into an immigrant Jewish family in which the grandparents’ journey from Poland to Michigan took them through Paris, where her grandparents’ fondness for opera was a source of pleasure and even a bit of income as part of the cheering section for singers willing to hire them. Erna did not turn to singing, though she did learn French; but moreover, as a child she proved herself a talented, award-winning pianist even as an 8th grader. Very intelligent and especially capable in mathematics as well as literature, she was encouraged by her family to pursue at least some of her ambitions, heading to college at the University of Michigan, where she met the love of her life, Don, her proud and caring husband for 56 years.

Erna was well rooted in her Jewish identity, even though her childhood experiences with organized religion were not good ones. Her parents were religious traditionalists, not so narrow that they would deny their bright daughter the higher education she desired but strict about sending her to religious school even through cold and snowy Grand Rapids winters and keeping her from the youthful activities that she wanted to enjoy with the other children in her public school. She did not associate formal religion with joyful living. As an adult she could describe herself as spiritual rather than religious, though she felt strongly about being Jewish. Her upbringing also grounded her in Hebrew, much to the surprise of her grandchildren as they prepared for bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies and heard their grandmother reading a language they had no idea she could speak.

Erna was supportive of you, Don, from the outset of your career as she went with you first to Rochester, NY for your first job and, as it happened, the births of your three children, while she also taught special ed mathematics. Later, when you moved the family to Dallas as your professional career developed, she turned her mathematical skills in a different practical direction, taking courses again to be certified as a CPA at the age of 40 and starting a new career for herself. It was a worthwhile part of her life but not the most important.

Erna did not require a lot materially to bring her pleasure. The NY Times crossword puzzle was one. A modest old cabin on Lake Michigan was another, especially with family around. A second glass of exceptionally good champagne could also be in order. The piano, always the piano, even in the early days of marriage when she and Don furnished their apartment with a card table, a mattress on the floor . . .

and the piano. Later, there were the cats, the ones she bred and the four who snuggled with her. Most important were those she loved: Don, your children, and as life went on, their spouses and the delightful grandchildren who meant so much to her (another generation to celebrate) and who will miss her intensely.

For all her working life, Erna managed also to create a domestic way of life that made the Woodward home the somewhat chaotic hangout place for all of the children’s friends. Balancing work and motherhood, she fostered the various interests of these three very intelligent and talented individuals, Dan, Julie and Karen, encouraging you each in whatever directions appealed to you, nurturing your own skills and capabilities in art and science as you each pursued your own paths to great professional successes and personal happiness rather than trying to mold you according to her preferences. She was enormously proud of all of you, heralding your achievements to anyone and everyone, whether they asked or not.

But not so, herself. Erna found it difficult to accept compliments even though many people were moved by her musicianship as a pianist and had no desire for a performing career. People outside the family would most likely hear her play occasionally at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of W-S, which she and Don both attended. It was a good place for someone who didn’t like organized religion. However, she was especially happy playing classical piano for herself for relaxation and spiritual gratification, not for acclaim, which she dismissed.

This was characteristic of a woman who was more interested in buying gifts for others than getting them for herself, and moreover of someone whose inner life somehow required a lot of quiet time and personal soothing, especially during the last decade, which was marked by challenging personal periods. Painful for her, the low times could also be tremendously painful for people close to her. Those of you who cherished Erna suffered through the difficulties, knowing how good the good times with her could be, grasping the difficulties, respecting and loving her, no matter what.

And so we gather here to honor her wishes in the tradition of her family before the final return to the shores of the great lake that she loved. In all the years ahead, you will hear her voice—”Oh, you guys!”—and the sound of her playing, and you will feel the love that survives beyond the body. You will know yourselves loved and blessed by Erna, as you will still love her.

4 replies
  1. Janet Loew
    Janet Loew says:

    I remember the many times Erna played piano during our worship services and I am grateful for her service to our congregation over the many years. RIP Erna.

  2. UUFWS Member
    UUFWS Member says:

    I regret that I didn’t know Erna,the minimal interaction that I had with her in my short time UU, was always positive.

  3. Donna Von Bargen, Ph.D.
    Donna Von Bargen, Ph.D. says:

    I’m glad I got to meet Erna during our first dinner circle. When I heard her play during a service sometime later it was magical. Rest in peace, Erna. My condolences to you and your family, Don.

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