Phoenix: Grant Woods hailed as an authentic Arizona voice at memorial service

Phoenix: Grant Woods hailed as an authentic Arizona voice at memorial service

Mary Jo Pitzl | Arizona Republic

Troy Warren for PhoenixNewsAndTalk.Com


Grant Woods was remembered Friday as an authentic Arizonan, whose passions ran from sports to civil rights, music to impish pranks.

The former attorney general was “a white John Lewis,” the Rev. Warren Stewart Sr. said as he opened a two-hour service attended by judges, attorneys, former governors and friends accumulated across his colorful lifetime.

“Grant Woods was a white John Lewis, yes, a white John Lewis,” said Stewart, who chaired the 1990 campaign that established a state Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a cause Woods championed.

Stewart recalled the former Georgia congressman’s admonition that if someone sees wrongdoing, they need to speak up, to do something, to get into “good trouble.”

“Grant Woods was getting into good trouble until the day he died,” Stewart said as the audience laughed.

There were lots of laughs at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix, as friends and family remembered the jokes, scrapes and pranks Woods was known for. 

But there were also tributes to his devotion to family, his love of writing and music and his sense of justice for all, as expressed in his legal and political work.

Woods, a two-term Republican Arizona attorney general, died of a heart attack Oct. 23 at age 67. He is survived by his wife, Marlene Galan Woods, and five children.

Galan Woods said her husband was devoted to fighting for the average person, a passion that motivated his civil-rights work both as attorney general in the 1990s and his later legal work.

But his last fight, she said, is probably the most important: stopping voter suppression in the U.S.

“It’s a cancer that is spreading in legislatures around our country,” Galan Woods said in her eulogy. “These are laws that are specifically crafted to keep minorities from voting. Grant believed protecting Americans’ right to vote was imperative for democracy.”

He served on the advisory board of States United, a nonpartisan organization working for free and fair elections. Among other things, the group has been critical of the Arizona Senate’s ballot review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results, and efforts in other states to do similar reviews.

Humor amid the fight

The event was a blend of talk, music and laughs, all qualities for which Woods was adept, according to family and friends. Tributes were interspersed with musical performances and Scripture readings.

Woods’ eldest son, Austin, caught the audience off guard with his opening line, reminiscent of Grant Woods’ humor:

“We come here today to bury Robert Sarver,” he said, then waited a beat. The audience caught the joke about the Phoenix Suns owner and the scrutiny he is getting amid allegations of sexist and racist behavior.

Austin Woods remembered his dad as a fun-loving man: “He could make a ride in the elevator fun.”

He recalled a quote Robert F. Kennedy often used about how when one person stands up for an ideal, they send out a ripple of hope that can grow into a cascade of change.

His father, he said, “sent forth on his own million ripples of hope.”

A good father

Former Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley eulogized Woods with a mix of mirth and admiration. 

Soon after he was traded to Phoenix in 1992, Barkley said Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons told him the state attorney general wanted to meet with him.

“And I said, ‘Cotton, I haven’t even gotten arrested yet,'” Barkley said.

But the request was about basketball, not anything to do with legal matters. Skeptical why an attorney general wanted to play hoops, Barkley nonetheless showed up on a Friday (Woods’ day to play basketball) for a game.

Their match, he said, was “awesome.” The level of play, however, not so much. Woods pressed for a review.

“As an attorney general, you’re a great attorney general,” Barkley said he told Woods. “As a basketball player, you’re a great attorney general.”

Barkley said he admired Woods for being a good father, something he didn’t have as the son of a single mother. 

McCain’s best Arizona friend

In her eulogy, Cindy McCain entwined memories of Woods with her husband, the late Sen. John McCain. The two were longtime friends, dating back to the 1980s and McCain’s first run for office. 

Both men were authentic, she said, not afraid to speak their minds — something that, McCain added, is in rare supply these days.

“They were conviction politicians,” said McCain, recently appointed ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. “They knew right from wrong and they had the guts to say so.”

Political who’s who, mostly Democrats

The event drew an estimated 650 people to the downtown theater.

U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, both Democrats, were ushered in just before the program began.

Former GOP Govs. Fife Symington and Jan Brewer attended, as well as current Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Also in the audience were numerous judges who knew Woods from his work as attorney general as well as in private practice, and former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who worked with Woods on a landmark tobacco settlement that continues to reap revenue for state governments more than two decades later.

Terry Goddard was the only former Arizona attorney general seen at the event.

A Democrat who came to the AG’s office four years after Woods, a Republican, had left, Goddard said he inherited an office that was largely remade by Woods, from its civil-rights division to a bigger role for consumer protection.

Bill Mundell recalled Woods’ help in pushing through policies that Mundell, then a GOP lawmaker, was working on as chairman of the House Environment Committee. They ranged from trying to eliminate the establishment of a hazardous-waste site south of the greater Phoenix metro area to the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act.

Mundell later became a Democrat, something Woods himself did several years ago, after Sen. McCain died. 

But even before he switched parties, Woods was supportive of various Democratic campaigns. He backed Goddard’s run for attorney general in the early 2000s, and served as co-chair of the campaign Goddard is running to bring disclosure to dark-money campaign contributions.

Kris Mayes, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, lost not only her campaign chairman but also an outspoken voice for doing what is right.

“It creates a huge hole for the state of Arizona,” she said of Woods’ death. “He was an enormous part of who we are, politically and culturally.”


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By Troy Warren

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