Charles William Woodfield

Charles William Woodfield ( )

Charles W. "Chuck" Woodfield, whose career in Baltimore County public schools teaching science and serving as department chair spanned more than four decades, died May 9 of complications from pneumonia at his Jarrettsville home. He was 88.

"I was very, very fond of Chuck, who was one of the great characters of the school system, innovators, and the kids loved him. I always thought of him as being a Renaissance man," said Robert Y. Dubel, who headed Baltimore County public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992.

"I studied physics with Chuck at Kenwood High School, and he was the reason I switched my major from chemical engineering to physics of the ocean, and that became my career. He made physics fun and influenced a lot of people," said Dr. Glenn A. Cannon, a professor of oceanography in the College of the Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"He was different, very mild-mannered and dedicated to his work. He always wore a crew cut and tie in those days. He really was a character," said Dr. Cannon.

The son of Charles Woodfield, a steelworker, and Mary Goodman Woodfield, an Irish immigrant weaver, Charles William Woodfield was born and raised in Newark, N.J., and was a graduate of Newark public schools.

He earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 from Montclair State College in Montclair, N.J., and his master's degree in science education from Morgan State University. He also completed postgraduate work at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mr. Woodfield began his teaching career at Kenwood High School in 1949.

"His first love had been biology, but when he became a physics teacher, he lived it," said his wife of 41 years, the former Joyce "Joy" Darden, who retired from Baltimore County public schools, where she taught English and art. "He profoundly admired both Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin. He often said and practiced his belief that 'physics is life.'"

Dr. Cannon recalled that, when he was inducted into Kenwood High School's Hall of Fame in 2011, Mr. Woodfield and his wife "came to my induction ceremony, and I was able to honor him and tell him 53 years later publicly what he had done for me."

Forever playful, Mr. Woodfield livened things up whenever he wore a long-sleeved, black T-shirt with bright, yellow lettering that he had custom-made. On it was written "Physics" in Greek, and the back read "Is Phun."

"His ultimate goal was to make physics 'Phun' and immediately appealing to all his students, believing that it would resonate in their own lives. It did," his wife said. "He wore that shirt on special days when he demonstrated or led demonstrations of the laws in action."

"He was the consummate science teacher and lover of science. He was a very encouraging person, and his passion made you want to be a better teacher," said Dr. JoAnna Allen, who got to know Mr. Woodfield when she taught science at Catonsville High School from 1972 to 1974.

While teaching at Dundalk High, Mr. Woodfield was science department chair, and later he was promoted to supervisor of the county's science teachers, many of whom he mentored, said his wife.

But Mr. Woodfield yearned to return to the classroom. He gave up his supervisory role and spent the last 21 years of his career on the science faculty at Randallstown High School and later Hereford High School.

"Even though his contributions to the development of the science curriculum were immeasurable — and he was an excellent supervisor — he wanted to be sent back to the classroom, and we did that," said Dr. Dubel.

"He never regretted that decision," said his wife.

Sam Bowen, who taught chemistry and coached the track team at Hereford, was both a colleague and friend.

Mr. Bowen described his fellow teacher as having "a great sense of humor and being very cerebral and philosophical. He, of course, was very well-read."

A 1992 stroke brought Mr. Woodfield's career to a close. It left him with aphasia, which made processing language difficult for him.

"Despite the radical change of his lifestyle, he never lost his sense of humor or his understanding of the laws of science that structured his life," his wife said.

Ken Allen, a friend and neighbor, recalled Mr. Woodfield's struggle to identify a flower one day.

"It was a common flower like a daffodil, but he couldn't come up with the right word in English — but he could in Latin," said Mr. Allen, a former professor who later was director of information systems for the Baltimore County Police Department.

Mr. Woodfield was a fan of kinetic art and enjoyed visiting the Visionary Art Museum and the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia. He also was a fan of the annual Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Mr. Woodfield celebrated the solstice, and a private service will be held on the summer solstice, June 21, at his home. His ashes will be scattered, said Mrs. Woodfield.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Woodfield is survived by three sons, Joseph B. Woodfield and John R. Woodfield, both of Baltimore, and Michael D. Woodfield of Calais, Vt.; a brother, Thomas G. Woodfield of Danville, Pa.; and two granddaughters. An earlier marriage to Marjorie Stoyak ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com