Opinion: An ode to Grant Woods, a straight shooter who loved Arizona
It’s a very lucky person who can look back on a job they loved to do. Lucky too, is the person who can say they truly loved their boss. It’s all the more rare when you can say both.
I worked for Grant Woods as his office spokesperson from mid-1994 until the end of his second term as Arizona’s attorney general in 1999.
As a press secretary for an elected official, a person is typically responsible for writing speeches, crafting statements, and massaging the intricate details of anything that person says in public.
In Grant’s case, I often needed to repeat his actual spoken words for some reporter who wasn’t familiar with his style and couldn’t quite believe what they heard him say, “Did he really call the sheriff a GOOF? He didn’t say the mayor was a brain-donor, did he?”
I wrote a lot of press releases and managed a lot of interview requests, but I would never have dreamed of speaking for Grant because I couldn’t have ever said anything as well as he could.
As attorney general, as in his personal life, Grant always knew exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. He didn’t mince his words, temper his responses or edit his comments in public or in private, not even when some of his friends and enemies wished he would have.
He was courageous and tenacious — sometimes even stubborn — and when he spoke in public, it was most often from the heart and completely without a script. Speaking that way came naturally to him because he always believed 110% in what he was doing, whether it was fighting for fair lending practices or telling the local sports team owner what (little) he thought of the team’s latest efforts.
When I took the job as his press secretary, he had been in office nearly four years and was running mostly unopposed for his second term. His executive staff was a tight group, and I was a little intimidated to be the new kid. Everyone was super smart, skilled, confident and united in their mission in a way I hadn’t ever seen before. There was a distinct air of purpose in that office and it wasn’t long until I realized how special an environment it was.
Grant’s team worked hard and played hard. They put to rest any notion I would have held about typical people in government jobs. The work ethic and overall mood in our office was much like what I would imagine an AG’s office during the civil rights era of the 1960s would have been.
The talented group of prosecutors that Grant carefully sought out and hired went out of their way to work on cases that would better the lives of the disadvantaged. Grant was a true champion of the “little guy” and didn’t care much for the opinions and praise of those who had too much money or too much power. His part in the lawsuits against big tobacco, opposition to anti-immigration roundups and policies, and consumer protection battles often won him the attention of the wealthy and powerful, but that was never his goal.
The job of state AG is broad and complex and many parts of it are thankless, but Grant embraced every facet of it. He loved to fight the good fight against con artists who would prey on the elderly and lenders who would prey on minorities. He believed strongly in the right to a fair trial, for everyone, but he also believed in swift and sure punishment for those who did break the law, especially when the victim was poor, elderly, or a child. He argued (and won) at the U.S. Supreme Court over the issue of prison law libraries, but would always go out of his way to defend anyone who was wrongly accused.
He loved his friends and his family fiercely and was unflinchingly loyal. If he knew someone to be a racist, a con man or a thief, he didn’t spare them any mercy. He reserved his rants for the worst of the worst, and called people out on their crimes and dishonesty, no matter who they were. He didn’t apologize for it.
In this way, Grant let everyone around him know where they stood with him. If you were lucky enough to be in his inner circle at any time during the last 35 years, you probably spent time listening to music, eating tacos, sympathizing about the Diamondbacks (mostly after 2006), hearing about his latest writing project or his wife Marlene’s latest play.
He so loved his home state of Arizona and he struggled with so many of the recent high events and issues that have thrust it into a bad light. He loved and honored the unique culture and history of this state, from our many Native American and Hispanic traditions to the legacies of trailblazing Arizona leaders like John Rhodes, Barry Goldwater and John McCain. He was constantly creating alliances and planning projects to help make Arizona a better place for everyone to live.
He hated anything that wasn’t authentic. Probably his favorite insult was to call someone a fraud. To be a fraud in Grant’s eyes was to be phony, fake or disloyal. His favorite rant was against that of the phony conservative, the officeholder (usually in the GOP,) who preached one way of life and lived a very different one. He could never understand how so many in his own political party would preach family values’ or claim to be devoutly religious, yet forsake their own spouses and children for the company of others at every possible opportunity.
He and I once had a talk about time. He wanted me to know that, especially as I got older, my most important asset was my time and he advised me to be very stingy with anyone or anything I gave my time to. While he was AG, both he and his wife worked long hours, Grant in his state job and Marlene at a local news station where she anchored evening broadcasts. There were very few nights in those five years that he and Marlene didn’t move heaven and earth to be together with their kids for dinner.
When a legal story or state issue made news late in the evening, Grant would often defer comment until the morning. He didn’t want to take time away from his family. If it was absolutely required, he would conduct an interview in his front yard or from home, often with one or two kids in his lap.
He loved a good practical joke. He wasn’t above a prank phone call and calls to radio talk shows under fake names were a regular occurrence. He pranked people he loved just as often as people he didn’t. He once ordered several adult movies on a fellow AG’s hotel room television, just so he could sit in the lobby the next day and watch while his friend checked out and contested the Spectravision bill. Once, when passing through a security checkpoint at the White House, he and I were asked for identification. It was well before 9-11, so security in D.C. wasn’t nearly as tight as it is today, but the guards required photo IDs from all visitors. Grant produced a souvenir “Graceland, USA” driver’s license featuring his own photo but bearing the name and address of Elvis Aaron Presley. The guard was halfway finished filling out the form before Grant stopped him and confessed that Elvis wasn’t his real name.
There aren’t enough pages to write down all the funny stories. Grant Woods was a brilliant man, an excellent lawyer, a quick study, and a brave and loyal husband and dad. He was a quintessential Arizonan who valued independence, originality and wit. He didn’t always do what people expected of him, but he did everything his own way and he always exceeded expectations. We were lucky to have known him.
We miss you, Grant. Rest in peace.