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Robert N. Woodruff

January 29, 1930 June 1, 2021
Robert N. Woodruff
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Obituary for Robert N. Woodruff

Robert Norman Woodruff Jr. of Birmingham, Michigan passed away peacefully at his assisted living apartment on June 1, 2021 at the age of 91.

Robert was born to Robert N. Woodruff Sr. and Beatrice Pease Woodruff on January 29, 1930 in Detroit and raised in Franklin, and Birmingham, Michigan. His mother died when Bob was young, but his father eventually remarried and Bob and his older sister Anne gained a stepmother (Phyllis Saunders Woodruff), and two stepsiblings (Bill Saunders and Prudence Saunders).

Bob attended Cranbrook and then Baldwin High School in Birmingham where he excelled in athletics and goofing around with his pals. He played football, baseball and was on the diving team. It has been reported that Bob even studied a bit.

When presented with the opportunity to hitch a ride on a Spanish freighter, he jumped at the chance. He and a friend took a semester off high school for the three-month adventure that saw them crossing the Atlantic and making stops in various Spanish ports before returning to finish up high school. That experience motivated him to get a job the following summer on an iron ore freighter that plied the Great Lakes. Both experiences were unforgettable adventures.

Bob was light-hearted and generous with his love and had a beautifully mischievous sense of humor, a quality that served him well his whole life, even when it didn’t. While attending the University of Pennsylvania his mischief-driven work ethic earned him a spot on the Dean’s List—the one that had the Dean suggesting he, “Seek opportunities elsewhere.” Bob cheerfully did so by joining the Army and serving his country. After training at Camp Roberts and Ft. Bliss as a Radar Technician, he was stationed at a base in England during the Korean War.

After his service, Bob returned to study at Wayne State University and then go on to the University of Michigan for a Bachelors in Business Administration. Before finishing his MBA, Bob was offered a job in Cleveland and accepted it. He was living and working there when, on a trip back to Birmingham for a party, he met his bride-to-be, Frances Dawson. It was an encounter that Bob forever called the luckiest of his life.

Bob and Frances married in May of 1959 and began their lives together in Dayton, Ohio where their first son David was born. The growing family then moved to Birmingham where they had three more boys, Bob, Mike and Jim, and settled into a very busy life amongst a strong community of dear friends and family.

Bob and Frannie were both athletes and raised their boys on a steady diet of athletics, athletics, and more athletics. Bob was often the coach and always the cojoler-in-chief and Frannie was medic and consoler-in-chief. They loved nearly every minute of it, despite what seemed to be an escalating, but undeclared, competition between their boys to get the most stitches and casts.

In those early years Bob worked as Advertising Manager for the Detroit Athletic Club News, but also enjoyed acting in community theater at St. Dunstan’s, and, of course, rough-housing with and coaching his boys, as well as playing golf at OLCC.

He left the DAC News and the world of magazine advertising in the early 70’s to become a real estate agent for Max Broock of Birmingham. After the boys were a little older, Frannie joined him in that profession and they made for a good team in the art of getting homes bought and sold, with every client getting a batch of Frannie’s famous chocalate chip cookies.

During that time of work and child-rearing Bob and Frannie made the most of their bustling social life with family and new and lifelong friends by attending lots of parties and picnics, hosting and attending large family Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, going on many shared family vacations, as well as engaging in a lot of recreational activities.

The family grew and grew and Bob became the proud grandfather of eight grandchildren. He nurtured them with the same love and humor that he raised his own boys and nieces and nephews with, often using his spot-on Donald Duck voice impression.

Bob brought his love and lightheartedness to the fore when he faced the greatest challenges of his adult life. As his wife Frannie began to decline with Alzheimer’s, his love for her shone the brightest and his devotion to her never wavered until her death in 2013. They were married for 54 years.

At the age of 86 Bob had the misfortune of suffering a stroke. Despite no longer being able to walk, drive, golf, or go out to lunch with his buddies, his love of life and his will-to-live remained undiminished. The man had true grit.

Even though his situation was incredibly challenging he was still able to bring joy to his family members and old friends whenever they were able to visit or call. He also brightened the days of the caregivers that helped him out on a day-to-day basis, and they loved him for it, even through the difficulties the pandemic brought down upon us all.

Robert N. Woodruff Jr. died peacefully at the age of 91, with family present, in his apartment at The Sheridan Assisted Living facility in Birmingham. The windows of that apartment overlooked the very ball fields where he coached his sons in Little League baseball.

He never wanted to leave his family and friends, but in the end he was ready to be set free from his suffering and to be reunited with his beloved wife Frannie in that mysterious place beyond this world. Hopefully with a spot on a 29,000 hole golf course.

Robert is survived by his four sons and three daughters-in-law—Dave (Lee Ann), Bob (Lee), Jim (Amanda), and Mike; his eight grandchildren (Kyle, Ellie, Mack, Cathryn, Nora, Claire, Kaelin and Holden), as well as his brother-in-law Jim Dawson, and many nieces and nephews.

He is also survived by a dozen or more core jokes, anecdotes, riddles, tales and koans that he seared into the minds of his sons, with the unspoken expectation that they would be passed on to the next generation. Just remember this, if someone says to you, “What’s the difference between an orange?” the answer will forever and always be, “A monkey, because it doesn’t have sleeves”. RIP Bob Woodruff. You will be sorely missed.

A Memorial Service is planned for Sunday, August 8, 2021 at 1:30 at Christ Church Cranbrook. A lakefront reception for friends and family is to follow at Orchard Lake Country Club at 3:30.

In memory of Bob, donations may be made to: The Epilepsy Foundation The Alzheimer's Association of Michigan or The Bob Woodruff Foundation


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