I posted this to my Facebook and thought I should post it here as well.
Three years ago, I had the privilege of being part of a special memory between one of my students, her mom, and this wonderful man named Woodie Flowers. For those who haven’t heard of him, he was one of the visionaries who helped start the program that has changed my life and the lives of many of my students, FIRST Robotics.
On this particular day at the Houston World Championship, he had stopped to visit with us and to meet Madisyn’s mom who was in the final stages of cancer. I can remember her signing his shirt, something that had been signed by countless other people through his years of working with students and his gentle demeanor and genuine love for being right where he was.
Yesterday, Dr. Flowers passed away at the age of 76 and while the whole of FIRST is mourning his passing for a variety of reasons, I will most remember him for this individual act of meeting one of my kids in their time of need and bringing a smile to their face as they met a man who spoke softly but who carried thousands into lives of purpose.
My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Woodie Flowers.
He was one of the most inspirational influences on today’s young people and will continue to be so thru his FIRST legacy and the real world lessons he taught us all.
As a not so young person, I am inspired every time I think about Dr. Flowers and strive to pass on his message every day when mentoring, at work, and in life.
Rest in peace Woodie Flowers.
After reading the outpour of heartfelt messages, I was so touched to see Woodie’s impacts reverberate across the globe. The united FIRST community will be drastically different, but I know this is just the beginning and not the end.
I will miss Woodie so dearly, and I’m sure he will miss all of us too.
My condolences to Woodie’s family and friends. He may have passed, but his incredible impact isn’t going anywhere soon. I don’t have the words to express just how grateful I am for the impact Woodie has had on my life. FIRST was the first thing in my life I was ever truly passionate about and it has helped me grow so much in so many ways. It takes a truly special person to make such a huge difference to so many people out there and he will be sorely missed.
I deeply regret not taking the time to talk to Woodie at any of the competitions I saw him at. I always assumed I would see him again and could do it another time. Taking the presence of such a uniquely amazing person for granted was a mistake.
Dr. Woodie Flowers was truly one of a kind. A real inspiration and role model for us all. He was a sort of “reverse” celebrity who would collect many more signatures that he would give out. Words cannot describe the excitement students felt when Woodie would take out that cup of colored markers and let students autograph his jacket. But signing and receiving autographs was not his primary mission, it was educating and inspiring students. He would take the time to listen to the students, answer their questions, and ask them questions in return to promote deep levels of thinking and technical understanding, to the point of sketching a design or performing a calculation, right there amidst a crowd. It was such an honor to have the man himself present me the WFFA at the 2015 Ventura Regional competition, and a moment I’ll never forget.
I will truly miss hearing Woodie speak, and seeing his genuine smile. In my opinion he was the heart and soul of FIRST, and his philosophies absolutely shaped the way I compete and what I try to teach my students. It is because of Dr. Flowers that my favorite and most magical moments at FRC competitions are when I can jump in and help a team in need.
Woodie is a hero to us all and has been an inspiration for me as mentor, team member and wannabe teacher. I was first influenced by Woodie without really knowing him. I have worked my professional life in Public Broadcasting. I remember working some dull Saturday afternoons in Master Control. We would air optional programming that would come from PBS for member stations to use for fill. One Saturday in the late '70’s, this WGBH feed came down the network showing this crazy competition from MIT. I remember that Woodie’s name was mentioned in these programs as the instructor of the Intro mechanical engineering class. One in particular stood out for me that keeps coming back every kickoff. One of the teams had thought way outside of the box. The game was ping pong balls and there was a table with two sides tilted away from each other. The object was to get and keep as many balls on your side of the table in the alloted time. This one team had configured a net of sorts that would shoot out across the table, grab the majority of the balls, pull them back to the team’s side of the table and hold them there. I knew then if I could ever be part of a competition like that I would not hesitate.
Fast forward to 1997, the first Motorola Midwest Regional https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kzu0i25pnys. You can see Woodie as the MC/Announcer in the first few seconds. As I sat there and listened to him and saw him on the field, I thought “I know that guy!” And that started the long trail until this weekend. That WildStang (81 not 111) robot impressed Woodie very much and it is now at FIRST HQ if you get a chance to visit.
Fast forward a few years and Woodie and I often got a chance to stand with each other next to the field at Midwest and other competitions. It was at one such event that were watching a robot get smashed beyond repair by another robot in the finals. The students were in tears in the drivers station knowing their weekend was over. Woodie and I turned to each other and said “We can never let that happen again.” I reminded Woodie of that moment when we found ourselves again standing next to the Einstein Field in Detroit a few short months ago watching some strong competition. He said “you know, I went home and whipped up a prototype in my shop in fifteen or twenty minutes.” Now I know there was a lot of other people who became involved in testing and refining the design, but that is why we have bumpers today. My last memory of Woodie will be forever our conversation in Detroit this year.
Woodie has made me a better person, a better mentor and better Inspector. It is for Woodie that my signature includes “Learn something new everyday!” I know we should celebrate our individual relationship with this wonderful man but I can’t help but grieve the loss of a sometimes friend, advisor, and role model. I am often asked why I write so much on CD and it is because of my desire to be like Woodie and help students understand and succeed. I know that I was given a gift in knowing Woodie and I will continue to be thankful for that gift for as long as I live. Just prior to the picture attached Woodie put his hand on my shoulder and told me “You know Al there is no retirement from FIRST”.
I’m still in shock. This is a loss beyond comprehension.
He was so much more than the icon that appears on the pedestal. From all my time with him, from my viewpoint: he embodied the value system he espoused so fully, it makes me want to be a better man. Most of all - he was unflaggingly generous.
I hope his impact never diminishes… and I guess that’s up to us to ensure. He’s been a moral compass, role model, and inspiration for so long and for so many people. I suspect many of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to live up to his example.
I still can’t believe it. I’m very fortunate to have had the chance to meet him during Recycle Rush at the event that my school hosted. As everyone else has already said, he was such a sweet and genuine dude. In the brief moments I had to chat with him, he told me something along the lines of “believe in yourself, you’re going to do great things someday”. I could tell he meant it.
Fast forward to finding out the news of his passing, I was the game announcer at the Bloomfield All Girls Event that day. Jim Zondag was the emcee, and when he made the announcement, everyone in the room gasped. Him and I both had to fight back tears so we could finish calling the playoffs.
Needless to say, it’s hard to imagine future seasons without his presence, but as Jim put it the other day, we should continue on, being a part of what he loved best. I have no doubt he would be very proud of all of us and that his legacy will live on in all of us.
One of my few direct interactions with Woodie was the fantastic, delightful joy of speaking directly with Woodie at the 2018 and 2019 Detroit World’s, both at the event itself and the alumni mixer at the socials. When I spoke with him, what stuck with me was his sheer excitement for the event. He was another fan, just like the rest of us, and so much more. We talked about wild matches we’d been able to view during the day, silly and fun happenings.
Woodie was one of the first leaders of FIRST that I was ‘introduced’ to when I first joined as a confused 7th grader on an FLL team. Like many others here, he is a huge part of the reason I fell in love with the program, the message, and the passion we all have for what we do. I became part of FIRST because I saw an elective course called “Lego Robotics” and thought “Man, what could be better than that?” Woodie was part of an answer to that question that I could never have dreamt up or possibly come to expect.
I always thought I would be much much older by the time I had to write this message.
Woodie will be missed beyond belief by thousands of people. Everyone here remembers it, but I am always struck by how Woodie ended his conversations. Despite being a co-founder of FIRST, despite being a professor emeritus at a prestigious university, despite most likely being the keynote speaker at your event, Woodie always asked for you to sign his shirt. Woodie’s message was always that you were the celebrity not him. His genuine kindness and his grace with be thoroughly missed.
FIRST Team 1885, ILITE Robotics, would like to join the entire FIRST community in extending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Woodie Flowers. His passing is a significant loss for FIRST Robotics, as well as for the world at large. Dr. Woodie Flowers understood, like most celebrated leaders, that he could inspire people to dream big. What made him a visionary, however, is HOW he inspired people. Dr. Woodie Flowers was one of the rare few who realized that by showing genuine kindness and interest in peoples ideas he could light an inextinguishable fire within them, a fire that burned so brightly they were compelled to chase and conquer their dreams. Since our inception, Woodie has been an incredible friend and inspiration to the mentors, students, and alumni of our team. He succeeded in lighting inextinguishable fires within each of us to chase our dreams and pursuit of STEM and implement gracious professionalism. We hope we are able to carry on his legacy by cultivating that fire in the next generation. Rest In Peace Dr. Flowers.