Woolard’s character is a greater legacy than corporate success

Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2023

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Edgar S. Woolard Jr., was once a kid from Washington who strived for more and looked for ways to improve – to be better than the day before. He rose within the ranks of DuPont, a multinational chemical company, and forever changed the trajectory of Apple, a global company whose net worth today is more than $3 trillion. 

To the corporate world, Woolard was a driven, successful, energetic and intelligent man who possessed immense talent for speaking to anyone and making them feel as if they were the only person in the world, Woolard Jr.’s, niece, Laura Dixon Davis, of Washington said. 

To Davis, Woolard’s wife Peggy, his two daughters Annette Woolard-Provine and Lynda Woolard and  other family members and friends, he was Ed – an outgoing, charismatic, and devoted husband, father, uncle and friend who, because of his humility, people would never know he led some of the largest companies in the world. 

“He was the same guy,” is what Lynda would tell Washington residents who may remember her dad. “He never really changed from the person who left Washington. He was down to earth and preferred not being in the company of people who were sort of upper crust-y…He really liked just being with people. I think that was where he was the most comfortable.” 

Woolard died on Dec. 4, 2023 at the age of 89 at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida surrounded by his family and wife, Peggy. 

In junior high school, Woolard and Peggy were smitten for one another. They dated throughout high school and while he attended then graduated from North Carolina State College (later, University) with a degree in industrial engineering in 1956. A month after he graduated from college, Woolard proposed to Peggy. 

Soon after graduation, Woolard began his career with DuPont at the Kinston plant. He, Peggy and their daughters would move from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee as he worked at other plants and moved up the executive ladder. They settled in Wilmington, Delaware near the DuPont headquarters. Woolard eventually became the chief executive officer and chairman of the DuPont Company. 

Per his obituary, Woolard retired early from DuPont in 1995 to spend more time with his family. His family will tell you that he decided that in the story of his and Peggy’s  marriage, it was her turn to be the main character. She supported him throughout his career by being the sophisticated hostess to many a dinner guest in addition to taking care of Lynda and Annette. 

Peggy, who currently resides in Wilmington, Delaware, was an avid tennis player with Woolard. Both were fervent supporters of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Peggy served multiple terms on its board and Woolard was her assistant in chief. As their love for and involvement with the sport grew, they became close friends with Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, according to Woolard’s obituary.  

Victor Battaglia and his wife, Tony of Wilmington, Delaware were dear friends of Woolard and Peggy. The couples often played doubles tennis together – the men against the women. Battaglia recalled one special moment when the men finally won a match against the women. Woolard made a sign and posted it inside the Wilmington Country Club for everyone to notice. 

Battaglia described his late friend as a “pleasant gentleman” who had a great sense of humor. He said their friendship was a highlight of his life. 

Woolard’s retirement was not simply spent on the court and being a devoted husband to Peggy. He remained active in the corporate world serving on boards for Apple, IBM, NY Stock Exchange, and Citigroup. 

In an autobiography Woolard wrote for his grandchildren, he wrote about looking for “new challenges.” One of those challenges was the most difficult and exciting of his life – helping Apple, a famous tech company on the precipice of failing in 1996. 

“One day a good friend asked me to consider a ‘real challenge’ – trying to help a famous but troubled company in its turnaround efforts. The company was Apple Computer. The decision to accept this challenge turned out to be much more difficult and exciting than I could possibly have imagined. I was able to play an important role in one of the greatest success stories in American business history.” 

Woolard was instrumental in a plan to replace former CEO Gil Amelio with Steve Jobs in 1997. “However, in about eight months, by February 1997, it was becoming clear that Gil, although a capable person, was not the right individual to lead this ‘cult-oriented’ company. The annual shareholder meeting was the first of several rather disastrous presentations. Shareholders and employees were firing complaints at him from every direction, and the responses were not very comforting. The hole we were in was much deeper than I imagined,” Woolard wrote. 

Woolard was the one to call Jobs requesting he be an advisor for the management team. “I was extremely pleased and proud to have helped Steve Jobs build a strong board, a talented management team and a great company. It was exciting, terrific fun and resulted in an outstanding business success story. As it happened on many occasions, Ed was in the right place at the right time to be part of an unbelievable team effort with extraordinary results,” he wrote. At his request, Woolard’s grandchildren called him Ed. 

Lynda remembers what Peggy would say most times when Jobs would call, 

“My mom would say, ‘Ed, your son’s on the phone,’” Lynda laughed. “I think Steve did look to him as a father figure and I think [Woolard] looked at [Jobs] as a bit of a son figure.” 

Lynda said her father’s top three priorities in life were faith, family and work – in that order. She didn’t mention a fourth priority, but an easy guess would be his alma mater, North Carolina State University and the Wolfpack.    

It was because of Woolard’s ingenuity and problem-solving abilities that fellowship-matching funds were made available to graduate students in the College of Engineering’s ISE Department. The match was worth $25,000 per student, according to a press release from the university. There were concerns that other engineering departments would want the same treatment. Woolard told provost Larry Neilsen, “If you get other departments to acquire a $10 million donation, you should definitely give them the same treatment,” the press release shared. After that conversation, matching funds were granted for ten fellowships. 

Woolard achieved much in life, but he was never blinded by his success. He never forgot Washington and the many life lessons it afforded. Both Lynda and Davis said the myriad of conversations Woolard had with customers at his father’s pool hall and grill, Edgar’s, in downtown, helped Woolard be able to talk to anyone. Too, he was very close with his parents and family and when there was time, he would bring Peggy and their daughters to vacation in town at their river cottage. 

If Davis could share one last sentiment with Woolard, she would thank him for the love and care he lavished on his family. 

“Ed, you are so inspiring and such a success story, but all of that pales in comparison to the love and care for your family and your friends,” Davis said.  

A public service for Ed was held at Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Greenville, Delaware on Saturday, Dec. 16. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington, Delaware or North Carolina State University College of Engineering in Raleigh, North Carolina, in Ed’s name.