Woodruffs Returns to Colgate

Christine Hebert

On Saturday, October 31, in the midst of Family Weekend, Colgate alumni Bob ’83 and Lee ’82 Woodruff captured the attention of students, parents and other alumni with a discussion of their experiences of war-related trauma, the effects it has had on their family and the ways in which they promote knowledge on the subject. 

The talk and booksigning that took place in the Class of 2003 Events Room on the third floor of the Colgate Bookstore was such a big success that there were not enough seats for everyone. Cathy Woodruff, an attendee of no relation to Bob and Lee, thought that the story was fascinating and that Lee was “awesome.” 

 “It was wonderful. I didn’t know [Bob] was a Colgate alum,” Colgate parent John Williams said.

Although Bob was initially a lawyer, his passion for journalism drove him to change his career path and his life drastically. He first went to Tiananmen Square as an on-screen interpreter for CBS, translating for American journalists who were there. 

After trying his hand at a few local stations, he became a co-anchor for ABC in 1996. He was sent to cover the War in Iraq and was injured in 2006 by an explosion while he was in a car with his cameraman. After the incident, Bob was unconscious for 36 days during which time parts of his skull were removed. 

When Bob came out of the coma, he could remember very little, including language and names. As Lee recalls, it took Bob seven minutes to connect the numbers one through twenty.  The rock that penetrated Bob’s throat “touched nothing; there were so many miracles,” Lee said, including Bob’s miraculous recovery.

In order to get through something so difficult, a stable foundation is important.

“By telling the story, we don’t allow the scab to turn into a scar,” Lee said.

Although Lee and ABC did not want him to return to the war, Bob eventually returned this past summer, three years after the explosion. Although Lee was anxious about it, she knew that it was important for him to go back and that it was not her place to stop him. Because of this traumatic experience and its effects on her family, Lee “toggles back and forth between past, present and future,” trying to remain in the present, an impossible feat, as she recognizes that the present can change any day. In an attempt to do so, Lee has been writing in her spare time and trying to spend as much time as possible with her family.

Lee’s writing in her spare time has manifested itself into the book Perfectly Imperfect: A Life In Progress.

“I never meant to write a book. It was just a way to deal with life’s situations,” Lee said.

In her book reading, Lee reflects on how she is now able to witness and find gratitude in the little everyday moments, particularly the unarticulated ones. She described the small gift that is easing somebody’s pain and the strength that she and the kids have built up through dealing with Bob’s injury. With this capacity, they are able to reorient themselves and find hope even in terrible situations. 

Although Bob is no longer anchoring ABC’s World News, he is “getting back on the horse.” He is traveling and reporting on climate change as well as reporting on the recovery of veterans. He has founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which is directed at helping and supporting veterans in many aspects of life, ranging from post-war trauma to paying for college tuition.  ReMIND is a movement within the Bob Woodruff Foundation that educates people about the needs of injured veterans and service men and their families.

Lee continues to write in her spare time, although she claims she’s recovering from a recent brief bout of writers’ block. This is okay, she acknowledges, because she is living in the moment.