PHOENIX – Hundreds of people both famous and not gathered Friday morning for a celebration of the life of Grant Woods, a politician known as much for his maverick streak as for his passions: his family, music, sports and democracy.
The Rev. Warren Stewart of First Institutional Baptist Church opened by noting that any memorial service to properly honor Woods had to be “celebrative, sincere, sacred, somewhat serious, silly at times and certainly sensational.”
His words were met with a standing ovation from those who packed the Orpheum Theatre downtown.
Cindy McCain drew comparisons between her late husband, Sen. John McCain, and Woods, calling them both authentic.
“There was nothing phony or effected about either of them. They were themselves. Always,” said McCain, who was recently named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. “They were conviction politicians, and they had the courage for it.”
During their time in political office and out, both men were known for bipartisan politics and moderate but firm beliefs. Woods left private practice in the 1980s to become the first chief of staff to then-Rep. McCain, beginning a lifelong friendship for both men.
Those who spoke were among Woods’ closest friends and family, a sampling of the hundreds of friends he made over 67 years. He died Oct. 23 of a heart attack.
Woods served as Arizona’s attorney general from 1991 to 1999, during which time he was part of a coalition of state attorneys general who negotiated a multibillion-dollar settlement with tobacco companies over the harm their products caused.
Woods, a Mesa native and graduate of Mesa High School and Arizona State University College of Law, which was later renamed the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, was a significant figure in Republican Party politics and his hometown, where he founded the Mesa Boys & Girls Club, Mesa Education Foundation and the Mesa Arts Academy.
Although Woods is known to most Arizonans for his work as attorney general, he also was a guitarist, poet, playwright, husband and father, and he relished a spirited pickup hoops game.
All five of his children spoke at the service, each expressing their love for a man who, according to his son Dylan, “seemed to do the impossible.”
“He believed in his family, he believed in me, he believed in his friends, he believed in most everyone if they had it in them to try and be the greatest versions of themselves,” Woods said. “All of us wanted to be more like Grant Woods, and if that isn’t changing the world, then I don’t know what is.”
To his wife, Marlene Galan Woods, he was a man who was passionate in everything he did.
“To say my husband lived an extraordinary life is an understatement,” she said. “He embraced everything. Anything he loved he loved completely. He loved his audience of one, and I loved my one-man band.”
He was passionate about his political causes, as well, including the need to protect the right to vote, she said.
“He worked every day since the inauguration with a bipartisan group to protect our most fundamental right, the right to vote.”
In 2018, Woods changed his registration to Democrat because of his frustration with then-President Donald Trump’s hold over the GOP.
Stewart said Woods had a history of championing civil-rights efforts, working with Stewart and others to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday in Arizona. In connection with this and other work, the pastor described him as a “white John Lewis,” comparing Woods to the late congressman known for his key roles in the civil rights movement.
Former NBA all-star and Phoenix Sun Charles Barkley, who became friends with Woods after he suggested they play basketball together, gave a eulogy.
“There’s very few people that you meet in your life that you say, ‘That’s a good person, I’m going to miss that person.’ There’s very few people that you really say that about,” Barkley said. “I’m going to miss Grant.”
Ulysse Bex contributed to this story.