Motorcycling for service
By Marjorie Charney,
Gin Shear, and
On the day of the 2009 Boston Pride Parade, our community woke up to heartbreaking news: Woody (Donna) Woodward had passed away after a long battle with ovarian cancer. A founding member of Boston’s Moving Violations Motorcycle Club (MVMC), Woody spent countless hours volunteering with GLBTQ organizations and fundraising for HIV/AIDS and cancer research.
A staple of Pride days in Boston and New York City, Woody sported a rainbow mohawk that illustrated her approach to life: Woody married her burning passion for riding with a fiery desire to improve the world. As an out and proud GLBTQ activist, she combined community service with living an adventurous life to the fullest.
At home, Woody strove to build community everywhere she went, serving countless local organizations and inspiring others to do the same. For two decades, she (wo)manned the Boston AIDS Walk in a grass skirt and rainbow-colored umbrella cap, simultaneously barking orders to the marchers and cheering them on. She marshaled three-day-long AIDS bicycle rides dressed in various personas: Xena, Wonder Woman, and even the Easter Bunny! She motorcycled thousands of miles to raise funds for breast cancer research on the Pony Express Rides.
Woody grabbed the handles of leadership to ensure the sustainability of the causes and groups she served. MVMC, Boston’s own all-women riding club founded in 1985, benefited greatly from her headship, communicative joy, and sometimes stubborn drive towards community service and fundraising. Woody organized the Club to be a volunteer force at community events. Significantly, she ensured the Youth LGBT Commission had enough volunteers and safety marshals at all their events, year-round. Woody led MVMC’s contingent to protect the youth marching in the streets of Boston during Massachusetts Youth Pride.
She also served on the Boston Pride Committee, and worked to ensure the inclusion and safety of the entire community. Remarkably, she stepped up MVMC’s involvement with Boston Pride two decades ago, when events faced, at the time, public protests. Woody organized her crew of bikers to protect the grounds of the first Pride Day @ Faneuil Hall, confronting hecklers and keeping them at bay during the celebration. For years, Woody organized a contingent of bikers to show up at sunrise for Festival and Block Party setups. This steady, unwavering commitment to guaranteeing Pride would have the volunteer force needed defined her involvement.
Woody’s legacy of service lives on in artifacts that provide tangible accounts of her work and impact on our community. Her giant collection of buttons, pins, gadgets, memorabilia, papers, and even her travel slides are carefully preserved in both the History Project’s archives and the MVMC archives of the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. And her signature 1971 green BMW/5 is now cared for by longtime friend Peg Preble. Woody was even officially memorialized during her favorite time in Boston—Pride Week—as former Mayor Thomas M. Menino declared June 7, 2008 to be Woody Woodward Day.
Woody’s legacy was to invite all in our community to do their part. Don’t sit on the sidelines, get involved.
As Woody would say, “See ya’ there, sis!” •
Sporting her signature rainbow mohawk, Woody Woodward sits proudly atop her motorcycle at the 2007 New York City Pride March. Credit: David Shankbone.
Marjorie Charney, Boe Morgan, Gin Shear, and Susan Slate
Marjorie Charney, Boe Morgan, Gin Shear, and Susan Slate are all members of the Oldest Women’s Motorcycle Club in New England., the Moving Violations Motorcycle Club (MVMC). MVMC was founded in June of 1985 by a small group of women who enjoyed riding together and sharing information about motorcycling. Women on their own bikes were few and far between, and the experience of meeting and riding together brought strength, friendship and knowledge. From this experience evolved our basic philosophy: to enjoy safe, noncompetitive riding with other women motorcyclists. Although most of our members are based in Metro-Boston, we also come from greater New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and as far away as California.