Woody Wickham, 66

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Woody WickhamWoodward A. (Woody) Wickham, 66,  a strong supporter of independent documentary films and public media producers, died of cancer Jan. 18 [2009] at his home in Chicago.

In more than a dozen years at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 1990 to 2003, Wickham helped support such projects as Kartemquin Films’ documentary Hoop Dreams, the Creative Commons alternative to copyrights, and Dave Isay’s StoryCorps, for which Wickham was the founding board chair.

With MacArthur’s money, Wickham was a consistent supporter of P.O.V. and Frontline, local media arts centers and Kartemquin, says Alyce Myatt, who worked with him at the foundation.

Wickham also supported the foundation’s work in human rights, aiding the International Criminal Court, and media reform groups such as the Media Access Project.

As MacArthur’s v.p. and director of its general program he managed about $25 million in grants per year.

In Wickham’s memory, friends are raising funds to increase the endowment he gave to establish a butterfly garden in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, not far from where he lived in the city. The garden will be named in Wickham’s honor.

The foundation will begin to bestow a new annual Woody Wickham Award to creative staff members, President Jonathan F. Fanton said.

“He was one of the most extraordinary human beings I’ve ever met,” says Myatt. “He had a sharp, really sharp wit. He was the finest writer. Most of all, he cared very much.”

American University dedicated its Making Your Media Matter conference to Wickham’s memory this month.

“He brought to his relationships an intellectual rigor that could be awe-inspiring or terrifying, depending on whether you were prepared,” wrote Pat Aufderheide, director of AU’s Center for Social Media.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” recalls Tod Lending, producer of the MacArthur-supported documentary feature Legacy, and the PBS doc No Time to Be a Child. “He comes from a very academic background; I work much more from the gut level. To try and answer his questions … to satisfy him was challenging.”

“At the same time, he had a very big heart,” Lending added. “He had an incredibly strong backbone for social issues.”

“Every healthy institution is blessed with one or perhaps two people who set the standard, lift the spirit and deepen the soul,” he said. “Woody was such a person at the MacArthur Foundation . . .”

After leaving the foundation in 2003, Wickham chaired the program committee of the Benton Foundation and in 2005 became president of the new Weil Foundation, founded by the wholistic health advocate Andrew Weil. Between August 2006 and February 2007, he served as interim v.p. of development at NPR.

He was a board member of Chicago Public Radio and the Independent Television Service.

Wickham led efforts to build philanthropies abroad, including the Mozambique Foundation and the Oaxaca (Mexico) Foundation. Before joining MacArthur, he wrote reports on the living conditions of Native Americans in the United States and Mexico; taught at the Universidad de las Americas in Cholula, Mexico; worked as director of development for Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.; and did communications consulting for nonprofits as senior v.p. of Jan Krukowski Associates.

Survivors include his sister, Susan Wickham Grover Maire of Williamston, Mich., and Savannah, Ga.; his brother Robert T. Buchanan of Seattle; and his sister Diana Meyer-Buchanan of Besazio, Switzerland.

Memorial gifts for the endowment of the Woodward A. Wickham Butterfly Garden can be sent to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614.

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