Remembering Ed Woolard, Visionary Leader and Benefactor to ISE

On December 4th, 2023, the industrial engineering community mourned the loss of Edgar (Ed) Woolard Jr. (BSIE ’56 and ISE Distinguished Alum’ 06), a luminary figure who not only shaped the corporate landscape but also left an indelible mark on NC State University, the College of Engineering and especially, the ISE Department. Woolard, 89, peacefully passed away at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, leaving a legacy of leadership, philanthropy and a profound commitment to education. Much has been and will be written about Woolard’s illustrious career and accomplishments. This article will focus more on his impact on the ISE Department and his fellow alums.

Influence on the Department

Woolard’s association with the NC State ISE Department was instrumental, particularly in the realization of Fitts-Woolard Hall. His impact went beyond groundbreaking ceremonies; he played a pivotal role in making the building a reality through his partnership with Ed Fitts (BSIE ’61 and ISE Distinguished Alum ’06). Reflecting on their collaboration, Fitts shared, “Ed was one of the most ethical, honest, fair and smart individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing,” he recalled. “His character touched so many lives with his wisdom, guidance and commitment to doing what is right.”

Getting Things Done

Fitts further emphasized Woolard’s influence on decision-making and shared a poignant story. During a critical meeting with university officials, Woolard’s logic and advocacy secured fellowship-matching funds for graduate students, illustrating his mastery in navigating challenges. “I will never forget the meeting we had with then chancellor Jim Oblinger and provost Larry Nielsen,” remembered Fitts. “We presented our program to help raise the ISE Department to the next level and asked that they match the $25k (per student) funding we were providing.” 

At first, there was resistance to the idea because it would open the door for other engineering programs to want the same treatment. It was at this point that Woolard stood up to address their concerns. “Larry, let me tell you something,” he started. “If you get other departments to acquire a $10 million donation, you should definitely give them the same treatment.” That was the end of the conversation. The matching funds were granted for 10 fellowships. “This still gives me goosebumps,” confided Fitts. “Ed Woolard was a master of logic and how to get things done.”

Sizing People Up

According to Deb Fitts (Ed’s wife), Woolard had a keen sense of quickly sizing up people. After attending an art show in Palm Beach, Florida, with Woolard and his wife Peggy (only the second or third time the couples had spent together), the Eds went to get the car while Deb and Peggy stayed behind. On the walk, Woolard asked, “When are you going to marry that girl?” Once the Fittses were married, Woolard asked her what last name she chose. “He was quite pleased with my traditional selection,” said Fitts. “He was a great friend and a tremendous support in an otherwise awkward situation and always willing to share his experiences to deal with any potential situation.”

A Captivating Encounter at Fitts-Woolard Hall’s Groundbreaking

Reflecting on her personal experiences, ISE department head Julie Swann recounted a memorable encounter that exemplified Woolard’s engaging personality. “I met Ed Woolard at the groundbreaking for Fitts-Woolard Hall. He was incredibly gracious and humorous,” she shared. “I wish that I had been able to spend more time with him. I am sure there was much more to learn from him and his experiences.”

Leader and Philanthropist

Woolard’s professional journey began at DuPont after graduating from NC State. Rising through the ranks, he eventually became the Chief Executive and Chairman of the DuPont Company. Even in retirement, Woolard remained active, serving on corporate boards such as Apple, IBM, NY Stock Exchange and Citigroup. His leadership was pivotal in bringing Steve Jobs back to Apple, leading to the company’s transformative rebirth.

Beyond the corporate world, Woolard was a passionate philanthropist, supporting causes such as the Sunday Breakfast Mission, Delaware Art Museum, International Tennis Hall of Fame, Christian Outreach Efforts, Autism Delaware, Meals on Wheels and Christ Church Christiana Hundred.

A Life Well-Lived

Woolard’s impact extended far beyond his professional achievements. He was a devoted family man, sharing 67 years of marriage with his high school sweetheart, Peggy Harrell Woolard. As we remember Woolard, we celebrate a well-lived life dedicated to leadership, philanthropy and pursuing excellence in industrial engineering.