November 13, 2000
A man of many moves
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
"I really, genuinely, have a lot of energy for a lot of stuff,
says David Woolf, director of development at the Emory Eye Center. He
makes this statement about an hour into an interview that will last more
than twice that time.
Woolf freely admits he has a tendency to ramble. But his company is so
engaging and his interests so wide, that his tangential conversational
style can be forgiven.
Prior to coming to Emory in 1989, Woolf was vice president for development
for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He worked with the Dallas Opera and
Dallas Theater Center before that. Those artistically leaning jobs aside,
Woolfs first degree was in the more serious subjects of math and
psychology. Woolf also earned a degree in music (his instrument was classical
guitar), but he eventually came to terms with the fact that his future
lay in administration.
I knew about two-thirds of the way through music school that I
was not going to be making a living through music. I loved it, but I didnt
have the talent most of my colleagues had, he said.
Instead, music became a hobby. In the late 1980s, with three other musicians,
Woolf formed an Irish- and New England-influenced acoustic band called
Full Circle (they sound a little like The Chief-tains) that still makes
occasional appearances around town. The music features not only fiddle
and piano, but an instrument Woolf picked up in 1985 and now plays a great
dealthe hammered dulcimer.
The last few years, my musical interests have shifted a bit,
Woolf said. Ive gotten really turned on by a body of music
that was written by Malcolm Dalglish.
Dalglish is viewed as one of the worlds most accomplished hammer
dulcimer players, and Woolf lists as one of his most cherished musical
moments the chance to play with Dalglish when he visited Atlanta for a
couple performancesone at Emoryin October 1999. Soon after
Woolf decided to tackle one of Dalglishs most difficult works.
Hymnody of Earth would be a challenge for any musician. The
19-song, 57-minute Daglish piece weaves hammered dulcimer and percussion
with a choir singing the poetry of Wendell Berry. The lyrics touch on
the wonder of nature and expressions of humanity.
Dalglish was the only person to have performed the ethereal piece live,
and Woolf even needed to have made a special instrument to play the part.
(Dalglish plays a one-of-a-kind dulcimer, and Woolf commissioned a builder
to construct a copy.)
Leading up to his recent Oct. 22 performance at Central Congregational
Church, which featured the Callanwolde Youth Chorale, Woolf practiced
at least two hours a day. It was certainly one of the biggest musical
things Ive ever been involved in, and no question one of the most
exciting, he said.
And the results were quite spectacular.
He would change the mood with his rhythms, said Jack Gilbert,
associate vice president of Institutional Advancement, who was in attendance.
David would lace his music around the singing; it was really quite
wonderful. It was so well done that it almost seemed spontaneous.
Woolf has other musical outlets as well. One is his participation with
English Country Dance Atlanta. While he occasionally picks up an instrument
to play for the dancers, he spends much of his time on the floor or teaching
English country dance has a style thats a bit more sophisticated
and less boisterous than its cousin, contra dancing. Woolf describes it
like this: Think about the dancing you see in Jane Austen movies,
then take away the costumes, because mostly were in jeans and tennis
Woolf and his wife Mim also participate in weekend dance festivals around
the Southeast; in fact, they met on the dance floor. But dont get
the idea that Woolfs life is all play and no work, however. As director
of development, Woolf is the Eye Centers point man for fund raising.
By his estimation, he has been involved in the acquisition of a bakers
dozen of million-dollar gifts. The most special came in February 1998.
That was when the Eye Center was throwing a surprise party celebrating
Chair Thomas Aabergs 10th anniversary at the helm. Woolf had been
involved in the preparation for more than a year, and one of the gifts
was to be a $1 million endowment in Aabergs honor (The Aaberg Fellowship).
Except only one week before the event Woolf, had raised just $900,000.
Since hed already had a large ceremonial check for $1 million printed,
Woolf had to work fast to fill the account. Just 48 hours before the party,
Woolf found the money.
Its safe to say that this is one of the strongest fundraising
programs at the University, Woolf said of the eye center. Im
pleased that Im able to be a part of it.
While Woolfs plate appears quite full, he is still able to pack
even more onto it. He is an avid reader, is active in his church and does
occasional professional audio work. (Youre likely to see him behind
the sound board at Jim Flannerys Celtic Christmas.) But even with
his many interest and full professional life, he still makes family time
He is also one of the driving forces (along with Jae Schmidt, ear, nose
and throat administrator at the clinic) behind the Emory Chess Club, which
meets every Monday night for three hours at Panera Bread in Emory Village.
Woolf began playing in high school but never became a serious student
of the game. A couple years ago, though, that changed.
I woke up one morning [in 1998] and thought, This is a piece
of unfinished business for me; Id really like to learn to play this
game, Woolf said. He recruited a chess coach and even began
playing in some Tuesday night tournaments at the Atlanta Chess Center
I got my butt kicked, Woolf said. I was in way over
my head. Thats when I realized that I needed to work on it a little
more before I went back.
So he studied. And practiced. His interest waned a bit as his planning
of the Aaberg anniversary chewed up much of his time. But this past January,
the chess bug bit again. All the lessons and studying and reading were
fine, but they werent enough.
I needed some folks to play with, and thats why I went to
those Tuesday night tournaments, he said. But that wasnt
the environment I needed; I needed something less formal.
Woolf was put in touch with Schmidt, who had the same idea about starting
a chess night. Everything came together in April, and the club has been
a staple ever since.
Participation varies, but the club has had as many as 16 games going
at once. And since they are at Panera for 90 minutes after closing, the
players get rock-bottom deals on food from the hosts.
Not against going to extremes for his hobbies, this past summer Woolf
attended the Castle Chess Camp in Pennsylvania. The weeklong event hosted
about 90 peoplea mere dozen of them adultsand Woolf got to
room with a grandmaster, Art Bisguier.
I barely won a game all week, but I did better in the tournament
at the end, Woolf said. Still, the experience made him want to try
it againonly this time, the camp will be held at Emory.
Next June, Castle will sponsor a camp on campus. Classes will be held
in the Candler library. It will feature daily tournaments as well as a
large tournament at the end. All ages will be welcome.
This will keep me focused for a while; this is huge, Woolf
said. It will be a first-class, first-rate faculty, and were
going do it up right. I am putting it together as we speak.
When Im not practicing. Or raising money.