Every story requires a headline, so when Grant Woods left us Oct. 23 at age 67, the headline writers called him “Former Arizona Attorney General.” This is absolutely true — Grant served two terms as AG between 1990 and 1998 — but also a wretchedly poor summation of everything he encompassed as a human being.
Father of five. Grandfather to JoJo. Husband. Attorney. Writer. Talk show host. Political commentator. Playwright. Musician. Community volunteer. World-class joker. Tennis player. Patriot. Basketball court trash talker. Songwriter. Pain in the butt.
I’ll stop there, though the breadth of Grant’s many passions calls out for more. If it’s possible to cram a century of living into 67 years, Grant did so, which is a life lesson I will take away from having known him.
Another one is to lead with your heart, to follow love where it takes you.
Grant was passionate about music and writing songs. In 2015, he asked me to help him drum up publicity for one of his endless side projects: songs he’d written performed by artists with Arizona ties. He had lined up a long list of talented musicians, including Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band, Lawrence Zubia of the Pistoleros, bluesman Hans Olson, and legendary local vocalists Alice Tatum and Francine Reed. I’ll confess to some initial fear that a lawyer dabbling in songwriting might be, you know, not great.
I never should have worried. My favorite track on the album is “Me and Preacher,” sung by Blaine Long. It remains on my Spotify playlist, and I sing along every time it pops up. Some of Grant’s lyrics:
“You’ve got to try when the burning’s high/ And you must believe when the pain is deep/ You’ve got to march right on, singing that gospel song. The day will come, when the Lord will set you free.”
That was Grant, always marching on, singing his truth. We worked together for some clients where lawyering and public relations intersected. I admired his intelligence and charisma.
Grant was rarely the first to speak. He never dominated the conversation. He was the voice of wisdom, an experienced legal mind who sliced through the posturing, bad ideas and ego clashes. He took pride in getting the team where we needed to go.
He was like that on the basketball court at lunchtime, too. Grant liked to bring the ball up court, a point guard who distributed to teammates and launched Steph Curry-length jumpshots, of which he made a surprising number. No hoops game with Grant was complete without trash talk.
One of the guys we played with was an assistant city manager named Dave, who like Grant never met a shot he didn’t like. Grant prided himself on getting in your face on defense. Dave, not so much. This led Grant to refer to him as “Ave” for days on end. Why?
“Because there’s no D in Dave.”
At age 28, fresh out of law school, Grant served as chief of staff for then-Congressman John McCain. Theirs was a lifelong bond marked by a mutual love of Arizona, its sports teams and its politics. Both men put people before party, service before self.
At McCain’s funeral, Grant’s eulogy gained national attention. His final summation of the great senator provides another lesson to be remembered.
“He served his country with honor,” Grant said of his friend. “He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith.”
That was Grant Woods in a paragraph. He marched right on. He fought the good fight. He was the best of us.