Woody Durham, the longtime “Voice of the Tar Heels” for broadcasts of North Carolina sports, has revealed his is losing his power of speech due to progressive aphasia and will cease any public speaking.
“I can still enjoy the company of friends and traveling with my wife, Jean, but I am not able to address groups as I did in the past,” Durham said in an open letter distributed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
UNC’s Senior Associate Athletics Director for Communications, Steve Kirschner, forwarded the letter to the public Wednesday morning.
“For 40 years Woody Durham painted the pictures of Carolina Basketball and Football like no other as the Voice of the Tar Heels,” Kirschner wrote in an email. “One of the most beloved announcers in sports, Woody retired in 2011. The 1963 UNC graduate called more than 1,800 broadcasts on the Tar Heel Sports Network, winning the North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year award 13 times. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame honored Woody in 2015 with the Curt Gowdy Award for electronic media.”
After retirement, Durham continued to emcee several UNC alumni functions and served as the master of ceremonies for sports related events throughout the Triangle, such as the annual Kids Classic Golf Tournament he helped start at UNC Finley Golf Course.
Here is Durham’s letter:
“Last winter, I was diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder, primary progressive aphasia, that affects my language expression. I want to tell you this because I will no longer be doing any public speaking. I can still enjoy the company of friends and traveling with my wife, Jean, but I am not able to address groups as I did in the past. While learning of this diagnosis was a bit of a shock for Jean and me, and yes, quite an ironic one at that, it also brought a sense of relief to us in terms of understanding what was happening to me and how best to deal with it.
“Our entire family is grateful for the incredible care we have received from a group of very talented medical professionals, led by Dr. James Kurz and Dr. Daniel Kaufer, of UNC Health Care. They have helped me adapt to this diagnosis and set up a treatment plan that will help me manage my day-to-day activities as I continue to enjoy retirement.
“As in the past, I will continue to attend Carolina functions and sporting events as my schedule permits; and be part of civic and other charitable endeavors throughout the state. As part of these events, we want to make people more aware of primary progressive aphasia, and the impact that these neurocognitive disorders can have on individuals, families and friends. Along with raising awareness, we hope to encourage financial support for continued research and treatment in our state, as well as nationally.
“I also hope to meet many more of the people that enjoyed our radio broadcasts in the 40 years I was privileged to be the “Voice of the Tar Heels.” Those greetings and kind words have meant so much to me in the last five years, and hold a very special place in my heart.”
A rare syndrome
Primary Progressive Aphasia is a rare neurological syndrome in which language capabilities become slowly and progressively impaired, while other mental functions remain preserved. Unlike other forms of aphasia resulting from stroke or traumatic brain injury, PPA is a degenerative brain condition. It results from deterioration of brain tissue affecting areas of the brain that are important for speech and language.