Remembering Martha Woodroof

Jul 19, 2021

Former WMRA reporter, producer and host Martha Woodroof died at her home near Harrisonburg early Sunday morning, as stated on her facebook page in a post by her daughter. Woodroof was 74 and had been diagnosed with cancer.

WMRA’s Matt Bingay has this remembrance.

(NOTE - A 2016 interview with Martha Woodroof about her life and work is available at the end of this post)

MATT BINGAY: Back at the turn of the century… literally, Martha Woodroof called me up and insisted that I hire her as a producer and host at WMRA. As anyone who has met her already knows, this is how Martha did things. She did not follow protocols, she didn’t have time for unnecessary formalities, and she was fearless.

It was the year 2000, and after a job interview where I felt like the one being interviewed, and reference checks from two different producers at NPR that mostly amounted to advice on how to stay out of her way, I decided to roll the dice and see what this audacious, gregarious, and intense person could do at WMRA. And 16 years later, she retired as one of the most recognizable voices in the Valley.

In fact, she used to joke around the office that she couldn’t speak or laugh in public without being recognized… but I have a hunch she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

MARTHA WOODROOF: I Love what I call "First Level Conversations". Like the person pumping gas next to you or (Matt: First Encounters?) Yeah, and just the richness of human interaction. That feeds my story telling.

MATT BINGAY: That’s a comment Martha made in an interview we did as the final episode of her long running program The Spark.

Throughout her career at WMRA, she championed the voices of our listeners. Early on, she launched an essay writing contest, which eventually became a series she produced called the Civic Soapbox.

And many of those first level conversations, or chance encounters, became the inspiration for her news features… which might showcase a wrestling camp in rural Virginia, or what it’s like to enjoy a hometown demolition derby… a feature that won first place for soft news in small market public radio back in 2005.  

But I believe Martha Woodroof will mostly be remembered for The Spark.

(Opening music and montage from The Spark)

For 6 years, as host of The Spark, Martha Woodroof spoke with and shared conversations from everyday people throughout our region. Here’s just a sample of her work.

(Montage of Spark moments from the following episodes: A Lens to Heavens, A Stunting Past, Squaaaaawwwk!, Getting Your Duck Pins in a Row, and Roller Derby and Religion)

Near the end of her career at WMRA, Martha Woodroof dedicated more time to her passion for writing and published her first novel, Small Blessings, in 2014.  She retired from WMRA in 2016 but continued to write and engage our community in many ways, most notably through thought provoking questions and conversations she hosted on Facebook and her work with the Harrisonburg Citizen.

I personally believe that Martha Woodroof’s true talent was seeing people for who they were, being with them on their level, and celebrating what she saw. It’s a powerful thing to be truly seen and heard… and she also let herself be fully seen by those who took the time to look.

At WMRA, she’s forged a legacy of generosity and inclusion… and we’ve been made the better for it.

*Click here for a list of Martha Woodroof's NPR stories.