Woodruff, William 1916-2008

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Woodruff, William 1916-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born September 12, 1916, in Blackburn, England; died September 23, 2008, in Gainesville, FL. Economist, historian, educator, memoirist, novelist, and author. Woodruff survived a childhood of poverty so crushing that it might be hard to believe such desperate circumstances persisted in the modern Western world, had he not decided to write them down. At the age of seventy-seven, after a long and productive academic career, Woodruff published the first of his two memoirs, Billy Boy: The Story of a Lancashire Weaver's Son (1993) and Beyond Nab End (2003). It may have been a surprise to some of his students at the University of Florida to learn that their erudite professor of economics had once escaped a Lancashire mill town so desperately devastated by the Great Depression that some of its unemployed residents, including his own grandmother, had literally starved to death. Woodruff's stories recalled the ambience of Charles Dickens's novels, some critics noted, minus the melodrama. Woodruff escaped his hometown at the age of thirteen, undereducated and penniless. By a remarkable series of fortunate events, combined with his own hard work and perseverance, he managed to acquire a university education that culminated in a doctorate from the University of Nottingham, where he began his academic career. He worked as a professor of economic history at several universities in England and Australia, and in the United States in Illinois and Florida. Woodruff wrote several historical studies that achieved modest critical approval, and his scholarship earned him Fulbright and Rockefeller Foundation awards, among other honors. It was his memoirs, however, that became best sellers, especially in his native England. An earlier literary work was the semiautobiographical novel Vessel of Sadness (1969), based on the author's experiences as a British soldier in North Africa and the Mediterranean during World War II. Woodruff wrote another novel, Paradise Galore (1985), an allegory of the search for happiness using barnyard animals as anthropomorphic characters, which critics compared to the work of George Orwell. His last novel, Shadows of Glory, (2003) was described as a nostalgic look at England during World War II through the eyes of a diverse, eight-man rowing team of Oxford University students. Woodruff's novels were moderately successful, but none of his writing achieved the phenomenal literary triumph of his haunting journey through his own past.



Woodruff, William, Billy Boy: The Story of a Lancashire Weaver's Son, Ryburn (Halifax, England), 1993, published as The Road to Nab End: A Lancashire Childhood, Eland (London, England), 2000, New Amsterdam Books (Chicago, IL), 2001.

Woodruff, William, Beyond Nab End, Abacus (London, England), 2003.


New York Times, September 29, 2008, p. A22.

Times (London, England), September 25, 2008, p. 60.

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Woodruff, William 1916-2008

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