David Woodman, 22; student had soft spot for those in need

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / July 9, 2008

One night a few years ago, when David Woodman was a freshman at Emmanuel College, a friend from high school visited. Winding their way home through dark side streets, they encountered a homeless man, sprawled asleep.

"Dave woke him up and gave him money," said Jake Malkoon of Southwick. "He didn't even just leave it there, he gave it to him and wanted to make sure he had it. I was like, 'Dave, this isn't the safest thing, buddy.' "

The hazards of charity never troubled Mr. Woodman, who seemed to have money to spare or time to talk with all the panhandlers he encountered in Boston, no matter the time of night or day, no matter their lack of sobriety.

Born with a condition that required open heart surgery in the early weeks of his life, Mr. Woodman was aware of his mortality in ways not common among college students, his parents said. Like his friends, Mr. Woodman loved to have a good time, they said. But unlike many of his peers, he could not look away from those in need, whether they lived on the streets or lingered on the fringe of a popular clique.

"When you're in high school, you can rule the world, and when you're in college, you're on top of everything," Jeff Woodman said of his son, who was 22 when he died June 29 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "But David kind of had in the back of his mind that hopefully, his heart will last into his 40s and you can get a transplant. I think emotionally, that was somewhat with him and part of his development - it seems to be in a good way. He looked out for those who didn't have as much."

Autopsy results are pending for Mr. Woodman, who died 11 days after he was arrested at Fenway and Brookline Avenue following the Celtics victory in the NBA championship. He stopped breathing while in police custody, and his death has prompted investigations into what happened that night.

Many of those who knew and loved Mr. Woodman will gather at 11 a.m. today in Shepherd of the Hills Evangelical Lutheran Church in Simsbury, Conn. Burial will be private, and the memorial service will be held not far from his home in Southwick, a Massachusetts town southwest of Springfield, where his family moved from California eight years ago.

Trading childhood in San Jose's sunny urbanity for adolescence in a rural community helped form Mr. Woodman, who began high school as the new kid. Good looks and a disarming demeanor eased him into popular circles. But he sought no favors when friends learned about the heart condition that excluded Mr. Woodman from some sports.

"When we first met him, the first thing he told us about the huge scar on his chest was that it was a shark bite," said Anthony Molta, a friend from his 2004 graduating class at Southwick High School. "He never looked for sympathy."

"He was one of the most optimistic, easygoing people I've ever met," said Malkoon, another classmate.

Long before high school, Mr. Woodman had started looking out for others, his parents said, beginning with his sister, Aimee, and his younger brothers, Luke and Paul, who live at the family home in Southwick.

"Even though he had an older sister, he was like everybody's big brother," Cathy Woodman said of her son. "His friends all talk about how he was really a protector and how they felt safe around him."

A captain of the high school baseball team, Mr. Woodman was flush with the currency of popularity and spent it helping outsiders slip into the school's inner social circles, his parents said. Along the way, he began paying attention to the world beyond Southwick.

"He was talking about Darfur before George Clooney was," his mother said. "He was a very passionate person about what he believed in, and he really despised oppression."

At Emmanuel College, where Mr. Woodman was closing in on his senior year, he shrugged off a conventional approach to learning. If he heard about an interesting lecture at Boston University, he might sit in and skip a class at Emmanuel, his father said. Majoring in history, minoring in philosophy, and savoring life, Mr. Woodman kept one eye on his potential lifespan as he charted his course.

"He had told me that he wanted to teach history, but probably only at the college level," his father said. "He said if it took him until he was 35 to finish school, that was OK with him."

Mr. Woodman worked at Daisy Buchanan's in the Back Bay, showing up early to wait on tables, serve drinks, or do anything necessary.

"I was a bartender, and he was everything you needed him to be," said Steve Costigliola, a co-worker who attended Emmanuel with Mr. Woodman.

"I worked under Dave when I first came in, and he really showed me the ropes," said Adrian Krusell, another co-worker and college friend. "Every time he came into a room, he always had good things to say and was always in good spirits, no matter what the circumstances."

Cathy Woodman said her son, who also leaves his maternal grandfather, James White of Fort Wayne, Ind., and his paternal grandparents, Gil and Mary Woodman of San Jose, brushed off suggestions that his approach to charity might be flawed.

"What he didn't like was entitlement," his mother said. "If somebody was a drug addict, I would say, 'David, honey, if you give them money, they might use it to buy drugs or alcohol,' and he would say: 'Well, maybe they need drugs or alcohol. Is your gift conditional?' "

"If you took his photo around Boston in his area where he traveled from here to there, to work, to school, he knew all the homeless people; he knew the drug addicts," she said. "He knew them by name, they knew him. When I worried, he would say, 'Mom, they know me; they take care of me.' "

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