‘A staple in all our lives’: Friends, colleagues recall former educator Donna Woodcock as positive force

By JULIAN MENDOZA and DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writers

Published: 05-10-2023 8:01 PM

GREENFIELD — Former Greenfield High School principal and athletic director Donna Woodcock has died following a single-vehicle crash on the Mohawk Trail (Route 2) on Friday, according to a notice from Kostanski Funeral Home released Wednesday.

According to the Shelburne Fire Department, the crash occurred shortly after 6 p.m. in the vicinity of Dragon Hill Road. Karen Woodcock, Donna’s sister, said the 65-year-old Greenfield resident suffered a “medical situation” that “caused her to veer off the road.” The SUV she was driving then “struck an embankment and rolled over multiple times, injuring the occupants,” according to the Fire Department.

On Monday, Karen Woodcock and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office said Donna remained alive as of that day, despite erroneous reports circulating online that she had died prior.

Karen Woodcock could not be reached for further comment on Wednesday, but prior to her sister’s death she said her family was engaged in the organ donation process.

“She was very generous. She always wanted to be an organ donor,” Karen Woodcock said. “She’s always been so giving and she always wants to give back. For her to want to carry this on even after she passes is a testament to her spirit and how much she loves people.”

Karen Woodcock said her family does not currently need donations from the community to cover hospital expenses. She hopes that the public, which “has been so amazing reaching out in support,” will instead honor Donna by donating to some of the charities she supported. Karen said she intends to compile a list of these organizations soon.

Donna Woodcock was principal of Greenfield High School from 2008 to 2016. She also served as a longtime athletic director, as well as a coach for girl’s softball, basketball and field hockey. She also represented Greenfield on the Franklin County Technical School Committee.

Karin Patenaude, who serves as Greenfield High School’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said she was first hired into the district by Woodcock as an English teacher in 2010. She credited Woodcock for bringing out the best in her, showing her she had skills she didn’t even know she had. This eventually led her to become assistant principal of Greenfield High School in 2015, and then principal in 2016 upon Woodcock’s departure.

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“She just always encouraged me to be more and want more,” Patenaude recalled. “She’s the one who encouraged me to be an administrator. I thought I would be an English teacher forever.”

Patenaude stressed that while Woodcock “had this rough exterior,” she had a vibrant personality only perceptible by those who took the time to get to know her.

“She was never one not to have fun and enjoy [her students’] company outside of the classroom,” Patenaude added. “If there was a dress-up day, she was dressed up. If there was a spirit event, she was dressed up in green and white from head to toe. If there was a fundraiser where she had to be duct taped to a wall, she would do that.”

Brian Campbell, who taught 10th grade English at Greenfield High School for three years and coached girl’s tennis, said he was saddened Sunday morning to hear of Woodcock’s condition. He said he learned the news from a friend who works in the Greenfield public schools.

“I thought it was very sad,” he said, adding that Woodcock “probably had a lot of life left in her.”

Now an English teacher at Pioneer Valley Regional School, Campbell said Woodcock helped him start his education career.

“She was my first principal and gave me my first real adult job, so I always felt like she believed in me and ... supported me in teaching, and also in coaching,” Campbell said. “I felt supported by her and respected, even though I was a brand-new teacher at the time.”

Rian Lovett, who formerly followed in her mentor’s footsteps to coach field hockey and teach at Greenfield High School, said she heard about the crash on a police scanner on Friday and learned about the death from Woodcock’s family on Monday.

“Honestly, it was devastating,” she said. “Donna was, for me, one of the most influential people in my life.”

Lovett said Woodcock was a tough coach, but she came to realize after graduating in 2005 that that style was what she and her fellow student-athletes needed in order to be shaped into the people they are today. Lovett now teaches and coaches field hockey at Franklin Tech — a path she said she chose partially due to Woodcock’s influence.

“It’s really just surreal,” she said about Woodcock’s death. “I just feel like she was a staple in all of our lives.”

Before the start of Wednesday’s meeting of the Greenfield School Committee, Chair Amy Proietti described Woodcock as a force.

“May it be her legacy that so many young people had this force on their side as they navigated the halls of our schools and ... athletic fields,” she said.

Proietti’s comments were followed by a moment of silence.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com. Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120. Reporter Mary Byrne contributed to this report.

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