Donor Howard Woolley '80 'a great believer' in education, young people

By Emily Kulkus

August 12, 2016

Newhouse grad spent two decades as an executive in the wireless industry

As hard as it may be to remember, there was a time—and not that long ago—when telephones sat on tables and hung on walls and were not in people’s pockets. As phones got smaller and more portable, the mobile phone industry boomed, creating a fiercely competitive market that continues to grow and change. 

At the heart of that exploding industry was Howard Woolley, a 1980 Newhouse School graduate who spent two decades as a lobbyist for Verizon Wireless and its predecessors. Before retiring in 2013, Woolley was senior vice president of wireless policy and strategic alliances for Verizon Wireless, which means he was constantly bringing executives and politicians to the table.

And while strategy was important, Woolley says, his career success came down to just one word: communication.

And he learned it at Newhouse.

Howard Woolley headshot
Howard Woolley is a 1980 graduate of the Newhouse School.

“What I like about government relations is that you meet all kinds of people across the country,” Woolley says. “When you meet people face-to-face, sometimes you can break through all of the political labels and develop some really lasting relationships.”

One of Woolley’s first jobs was as a lobbyist for the National Association of Broadcasters. During a trip to Capitol Hill for that job, Woolley heard a ringing endorsement of his alma mater.

“I actually overheard a television general manager say, ‘Well, Howard’s from Newhouse. He really understands this industry.’ "

Woolley found more than just his career at Newhouse—he found his wife of 34 years there as well.

“She was a year ahead of me. I met her in the second semester of my junior year and she was getting ready to graduate,” he says of Gail, who graduated from Newhouse in 1979. “We did everything together while we were both on campus.”

Gail Woolley died of sickle cell anemia at age 58 in March 2015. She had a successful career as a reporter for the Washington Star, the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Times before joining the public relations department at ExxonMobil. In her memory, Howard is leading philanthropic efforts to support sickle cell research and patient care.

“She had an excellent career of her own,” Woolley says. “She was a go-getter. A typical Newhouse student.”

The Woolleys returned to the Syracuse University campus many times after they graduated. Howard joined the Newhouse Advisory Board and the couple participated in many reunion weekends. They loved to travel and attended the Coming Back Together trip to South Africa in 2007.

“We were fortunate to have 34 great years together,” he says, noting that they traveled to six continents.

The couple’s success and good fortune are what prompted the Woolleys to decide to give back to Newhouse, establishing a minority scholarship for undergraduate Newhouse students. There is also a broadcast journalism computer lab named for them on the fourth floor of Newhouse 2.

“It makes me feel good because we were both great believers in education and in young people. It was an opportunity to give back,” Woolley says. “We did well as a result of our Newhouse education and it’s nice to give back.” 

Larry Martin, former vice president of program development at Syracuse University, says he wishes the university had more alumni like the Woolleys.

“They are generous, supportive, always positive and added to the great successes that we’ve had in the office.”

Martin, who retired in 2015, led the Coming Back Together alumni weekends, including the South Africa trip, which the Woolleys attended. He says the couple was always very generous with their time and support, including opening up their home outside Washington, D.C. for reunions there.

“I can’t say enough about both of them,” Martin says. “About their friendship, their support, and their ideas and suggestions. They are wonderful people.”