Fritzi Woods’ ability to connect and inspire people has left a lasting impact on the Women’s Foodservice Forum, those who worked with her said this week.
Services held on Monday honored the legacy of Woods, 53, who died Sept. 18 at a Dallas hospital after suffering a fall at her home.
In her three years as president and chief executive of the WFF Woods guided the organization to new growth in foodservice connections, diversity and influence, including a meeting in February with White House staff on policies to promote gender-balanced executive teams, organization leaders said.
“Fritzi will be remembered for her work to further the role of women in the foodservice industry,” said First Lady Michelle Obama in a Sept. 20 letter of condolence to Woods’ family. “Throughout her life, Fritzi was a leader, an innovator and a role model for women across our country. As the mother of two daughters, I am thankful that her impact will live on for generations to come.
“Fritzi will be dearly missed,” she continued, “and I know her spirit will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.”
Laurie Burns, WFF chair since April and senior vice president for strategic platform development at Darden Restaurants Inc.’s Specialty Restaurant Group, will assume Woods’ duties while a search committee seeks a successor.
Burns said Woods helped the WFF clarify its vision, put a strategy and structure in place, and improve its financial strength.
“She helped the WFF think bigger about everything,” Burns said in a phone interview. “She developed highly engaged partnerships with all of our partners in the industry and grew the connections in WFF from 4,000 to over 20,000 connections with over 700 volunteers.”
Wendy Davidson, a WFF executive committee member and new Kellogg Co. president, Specialty Channels, cited Woods’ abilities to make connections. She said Woods was instrumental in starting a WFF Canadian division and advisory boards in other countries, which drew the attention of the White House.
“She was one of the absolute best at making connections and building a broad network. Because of that, she allowed the organization to not rely on only her strengths, but to build on the strengths of a broad network in the industry and on the board,” Davidson said.
Woods was also known for reaching out to help individuals. Cinnabon president Kat Cole said Woods served as a sounding board for her.
“She was always there to lend an ear, provide perspective, encourage me to take risks and bring my whole self to work,” Cole recalled in an email. “Having the opportunity to be on her board of directors is an experience I will forever cherish, but having been her friend and having been in her orbit is what has forever changed my life. She led with light, purpose and confidence in a way that few do.”
Kathleen Wood, founder and president of Kathleen Wood Partners and a member-at-large of the WFF executive committee, said that while Woods was a champion of diverse leadership in foodservice executive teams, she was also a champion of the individual. “She was a bright light that left us all with our own lights to move forward with,” Wood said. “She challenged us and inspired us to aspire higher, to move the mission of the WFF board for not just the members but for the industry and our next generation of leaders.”
Woods’ leadership traits shone early. She was born on Jan. 31, 1960, and grew up in Hooks, Texas. Her siblings, in her memorial, said Woods “was always trying to be the most efficient and economical child on the farm.”
She graduated as valedictorian of Hooks High School in 1978 and magna cum laude from Stephen F. Austin State University. She was a certified public accountant and worked in executive leadership roles in several fields before becoming WFF president and CEO in 2010.
Woods served on the boards of several companies and organizations, including Buca Inc., parent to the Buca di Beppo chain; Ignite Restaurant Group, parent to the, Brickhouse Tavern + Tap and Romano’s Macaroni Grill chains; ; and the National Restaurant Association.
She is survived by her husband, Ret. Maj. Timothy Clyde Woods, five children, five sisters and three brothers.
Memorials can be made to the Fritzi Woods Aspire Higher Scholarship at any Wells Fargo Bank, or mailed to the Women’s Foodservice Forum, 6750 LBJ Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75240.