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Obituary: Jonathan J. Woodman

Published in The Daily News of Newburyport  on April 1, 2019

Newburyport, MA – Well known and much loved Newburyport resident and community leader, Jonathan J. Woodman passed away on March 31 surrounded by loving family and caregivers. The son of Bertha and Louis Woodman, Jonathan was born at Anna Jacques Hospital on October 3, 1941. He and his younger brother Donald grew up in Haverhill, where their maternal grandparents also lived. After graduating from Haverhill High School in 1959, Jonathan attended the University of Cincinnati, where the university’s co-op program allowed him to work in a variety of locations during his 6-year tenure.

Both students at the University of Cincinnati, Jonathan met his wife to be, Betsy H. Green, (from Butler, PA) when they were 17 years old. While Jonathan was engaged in a co-op program in Oklahoma City, they married in 1963, thus beginning a 56 year marriage. After his graduation, the couple moved to Iowa City, where Betsy did graduate work in art and art history, and Jonathan worked as an architect and taught basic design at the University of Iowa. In 1969, Jonathan and Betsy moved back to Massachusetts, where Jonathan earned a graduate degree in architecture from Harvard University. After teaching for a year at Smith College and working for Desmond and Lord Architects in Boston, Jonathan began his own architectural practice in the living room of his former grandparents’ house in Haverhill, where he and Betsy made their home. Following the birth of their only child, Leah Katherine (Kate) in 1972, the couple moved to Newburyport where Jon expanded his architectural practice and where they raised their daughter.

In Newburyport, Jonathan and Betsy purchased a derelict building in the designated Urban Renewal area of the downtown on Inn Street. A fire in the building had destroyed most of the roof, the beams hung by force of habit and the back wall was collapsing. Undaunted by the challenges, Jonathan became an urban pioneer, being one of the first to restore a building in Newburyport’s Urban Renewal District. The Woodman Associates office on Inn Street was the first restoration project to be approved by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Urban Renewal Project. It began the renewal process in Newburyport’s highly acclaimed and restored Federal Period downtown. This successful project and the succeeding Newburyport revitalization provided HUD with the example that rehabilitation and restoration was a viable approach for Urban Renewal programs across the country.

For the next 45 years, Woodman Associates, Architects occupied the top two floors of the brick row building at 20 Inn Street. On September 9, 2017, Jonathan and his best friend since childhood, John (Jack) Bradshaw, were both honored with plaques for their significant contributions to the initial shaping of Newburyport’s Urban Renewal. The award also recognized their continuing efforts via the Newburyport Downtown Enhancement Team, to maintain the Inn Street Mall area, including the restoration of the fountain located adjacent to the children’s play area.

A regionally based firm, Woodman and Associates Architects focused on planning and architecture—both commercial and residential. Among the firm’s most notable Newburyport projects were designs for the Institution for Savings and the Newburyport Five Cent Savings Banks, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Foundry Project, site of the former Public Works Building. Parker Ridge, a residential complex, was a project where they pioneered in designing the first PUD or planned unit development where the units were grouped to maximize open space. As designer, and as a developer and partner with Byron Matthews, the Newburyport Racquet Club was an integral part of Jonathan’s life for 45 years.

Jonathan designed the family home in the south-end of Newburyport. Energy efficient and south-facing, the structure had large windows; a number of additions over the years strengthened and expanded the house. Jonathan added many ingenious sculptures and designs including a “Tree of Life” which was hung with decorations and lights and stayed up year ’round to the delight of all who came to enjoy the house known as “Wit’s End.” An appreciation of the home’s setting led Jonathan and Betsy to enhance the landscape in ways that honored what nature had provided—berms, large rocks, tall grasses and views of the Merrimac River.

Habitat for Humanity was Jonathan’s last architectural project. He designed a seven-unit affordable housing project, which is currently under construction on Old County Road in Salisbury. For his efforts on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, Jonathan received the organization’s Margot Bixby Volunteer Leadership Award.

In addition to his many professional contributions to Newburyport and surrounding communities, Jonathan served on a number of local boards, including the Institution for Savings Bank, where he was a trustee for 34 years, Anna Jaques Hospital and the Custom House Maritime Museum. He was an active member of the Newburyport Rotary Club, which recognized his service with the Paul Harris Award, and the Monday Evening Club, where he delivered a number of papers over 30 years and enjoyed the special collegiality of this literary group.

In the 1980s, Jonathan served for five years on the National Board of the American Institute of Architects, his last year as Vice President. During that time he was a recipient of an Upjohn Award for service to the profession.

During the 1980s, when Nancy Harrington was President of Salem State College, Jonathan served on the college’s Board of Directors, eventually becoming its Chairman, and helping to bring to fruition the purchase of the Osram Sylvania site. This enabled the college to expand the south campus and develop the Center for Entrepreneurship.

He also served on the Designer Selection Board of the Commonwealth of MA in the late 1980s.

In the spring of 2017, Jonathan was diagnosed with ALS. In order to facilitate his mobility and home care, he designed a handicap suite over the garage, dubbed “The Garaj Majal.” Carpenter, Jeremy Schutz and his team and all of the contractors who helped to realize Jonathan’s design, did so as long time friends and associates. Family and friends rallied and came with food, rides for doctors’ appointments, visits, cards, flowers and love to hold the family up with their hands and to fly them on their wings. Caregivers became family and gave unstintingly ’round the clock support. Throughout his illness, Jonathan remained stoic and never complained. He worried more about those he would leave behind.

Jonathan was a member of Congregation Ahavas Achim where he participated in Rabbia Benjamin Resnick’s class in religion. When Jonathan could no longer attend class at the synagogue, Rabbi Resnick brought the class to the house so that Jonathan could participate.
For a number of years, Jonathan was also active in an informal retired men’s group that called themselves, “The Vault.” Meeting weekly, they kept current on local events, sports, and national affairs. When Jonathan was no longer able to meet outside his home, the group came to him, strengthening the ties of friendship and loyalty, coming always with love, care and laughter and great stories!

A man of integrity, honor, presence, character and kindness, Jonathan was a born story-teller and problem solver right up to the end. He loved to sketch, read and play tennis, ride his bicycle, take walks and play the banjo while he was able. To his wife Betsy, he was a beloved life-long partner, co-pilot, mentor and best friend. They were able to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary in grand style with a jazz concert open to the public at the Unitarian Church on Pleasant St.

He was a much loved supporter and proud fan of his daughter, Kate Brigham, her husband John, and granddaughters, Lily and Emme Brigham. During his illness, Emme, age 8 at the time, looked up and said to her grandmother, “Nana, you just have to roll with it.” As Betsy noted, “We did our best with incredible family, friends and community at our backs. Our gratitude knows no bounds.”

Jonathan is survived by his wife, Betsy H., his daughter Kate Brigham and her husband John, and their daughters, Lily and Emme. He is also survived by his brother Donald and his wife, Judy Chicago, by beloved cousins in this country and in Switzerland, and by many beloved friends.

The graveside service at the Thomas Parker Cemetery on High Road will be private. To be announced at a later date, there will be a memorial and music service at the First Religious Society, Unitarian-Universalist in Newburyport to celebrate Jonathan’s rich legacy to the fabric of his beloved City of Newburyport.

To honor his memory, donations may be sent to: Compassionate Care, ALS, P.O. Box 1052, West Falmouth, MA 02574. Funeral arrangement by Elliot Woodworth & Rogers Family Funeral Home, 35 Green Street, Newburyport, MA 01950 (978) 462-4323.

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