The Enduring Legacy of Gracious Professionalism

Remembering Dr. Woodie Flowers: FIRST Executive Advisory Board Chair Emeritus and Distinguished Advisor

Oct 22, 2020 By FIRST Staff




Woodie Flowers at the FIRST Championship

Woodie Flowers at the FIRST Championship.

“Think of FIRST as a catalyst in a chain reaction. Each collision releases human potential which feeds an exponential expansion of additional human potential. FIRST students seize this opportunity by being informed, being creative, and thinking hard – all three, all the time.” -Dr. Woodie Flowers


The FIRST ethos of Gracious Professionalism encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community in pursuit of a meaningful life. It was coined by the late Dr. Woodie Flowers, FIRST Executive Advisory Board Chair Emeritus and Distinguished Advisor, who passed away last year on October 11, 2019, at the age of 75. Woodie, as he was known to all in the FIRST community, was an innovative and beloved Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped FIRST Founder Dean Kamen develop the FIRST Robotics Competition.

From the early beginnings of FIRST until his very last days, Woodie was an incredible supporter of our mission, a friend to everyone he met, and an inspiration to our students, alumni, mentors, volunteers, supporters, and staff. Survived by his wife, Margaret Flowers, the couple had no biological children, but she said in an interview, “the MIT kids and the FIRST kids were his children.” Throughout his 30 years of involvement with FIRST, the couple, together, were tireless advocates for the organization.

Woodie Flowers at the FIRST Championship

Some teams have posted #WalkLikeWoodie photos wearing Converse, part of Woodie’s signature style.

Woodie’s legacy will live on as the FIRST community continues to embody his words and actions. Woodie taught us how to carry ourselves with Gracious Professionalism. He taught us that hard work, determination, and believing in yourself allow you to accomplish even the most difficult of tasks. He taught us what it means to be a member of a team. Most of all, Woodie taught us how to be positive role models for others.

Woodie often said, “Societies get the best of what they celebrate.” In FIRST, we celebrate those like Woodie who lead and inspire a better world through STEM and Gracious Professionalism:

  • Since 1996, the Woodie Flowers Award has celebrated effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design. Dr. William Murphy founded this prestigious award in 1996 to recognize mentors who lead, inspire, and empower using excellent communication skills – starting with Woodie himself, and most recently recognizing Lucien Junkin, lead mentor for Houston-based FIRST Robotics Competition Team 118, Robonauts.
  • The FIRST Dean’s List Award, named after FIRST Founder Dean Kamen, celebrates outstanding student leaders whose passion for and effectiveness at attaining FIRST ideals is exemplary. Starting in late 2020, FIRST, with funding from generous donors, will award the Woodie Flowers Memorial Grant annually to one FIRST Tech Challenge or FIRST Robotics Competition Dean’s List Award winner to support their pursuit of higher education in STEAM.

We’ll continue to celebrate and inspire Gracious Professionalism through the FIRST Core Values. Founded by students from Camdenton LASER 3284 FIRST teams and embraced by the FIRST community, #WalkLikeWoodie invites us all to post photos and memories of Woodie on social media, and to share acts of Gracious Professionalism and ways they intend to follow in his footsteps.  On October 12, Walk Like Woodie Day, we invited our community on social media to share the hashtag. Here are just a few of the hundreds of posts, comments, and shares made in remembrance:


There aren’t words for how grateful I am for the work of Dr. Woodie Flowers. Thank you for the culture you inspired that all FIRST alumni learn and take into the world. I’ll never forget your teachings and lessons. And I strive every day to #MakeWoodieProud! I’ll always remember this moment at the 2008 World Championships where, despite being on the field and holding up a match, you had this conversation with me and you listened to the concerns and ideas I shared. You taught me that there is always time to listen and respond to empathy. And that everyone’s voice matters. Im so glad I got the chance to update you on the rookie team that a group of FIRST alumni started and to hear you say you were proud will be a moment I’ll never forget. Thank you.  #WalkLikeWoodie #FIRSTAlumni #omgrobots @first_official_ @firstinrobotics

A post shared by Hannah May (@hannahmayaea) on


"Competition for the sake not of destroying one another, but for the sake of bettering and improving both competitors as a result of the competition." ~ Woodie Flowers. Woodie taught us how to work together and respect one another both in and out of competitions. He showed us how using gracious professionalism to lift up our competitors can enhance our experience, whether it be helping another team fix their robot before a match or just having a positive attitude throughout a match gracious professionalism is at the core of everything we do in FIRST. Today is a day to honor his legacy and to remember we must continue his work. We plan to honor him by carrying ourselves as gracious professionals and teaching the next generation how to #WalkLikeWoodie. #robots #southernIllionois #gamechangers #ultimategoal #FIRST #FIRSTlikeagirl #Robotics #FTC #FirstTechChallenge #RoboRaiders @first_official_

A post shared by Robo Raiders FTC 7129 (@ftc7129) on

Follow FIRST and continue sharing how you #WalkLikeWoodie on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

If you have an inspiring story or piece of wisdom that you’ve picked up through your experiences in the FIRST community, please reach out to us at and inquire about becoming a guest contributor for Inspire.

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