Law School’s Communications Head Wins Sandridge Award

Mary Wood Recognized by UVA With Highest Individual Staff Honor
Mary Wood

Photo by Julia Davis

December 17, 2020

The University of Virginia has bestowed its highest honor for an individual employee, the Leonard Sandridge Outstanding Contributor Award, to the Law School’s chief communications officer, Mary Wood.

She was one of 11 University employees to receive the award this year.

Dean Risa Goluboff, along with past and present employees, nominated Wood for her leadership and broad competence over almost two decades of communicating the Law School’s story.

Wood has led the Communications Office since 2008, having joined the department in 2002.

“Mary’s leadership has undoubtedly enhanced the public’s regard for UVA Law and bolstered connections between members of the Law School community,” Goluboff wrote in a nomination letter. “Her leadership of our Communications Office has also won her the respect, friendship and admiration of many colleagues, myself included.”

When Wood began, the department was a two-person operation utilizing basic webpages, and social media was not yet a factor. As technologies and platforms proliferated and she took the helm, Wood expanded the school’s communications footprint and hired more staff. But in the early years her role required plenty of multitasking.

“Mary Wood hired me for my first job at the University of Virginia and immediately gave me a completely unrealistic view of the skills a communications director should have,” wrote Rob Seal, who is now the director of marketing and communication for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “At the time, she was leading the design and operation of the school’s website. She designed [some] print materials. She launched our social media channels. She wrote news articles and media releases, and fielded reporter calls. She took photos, coordinated requests for support from all the offices within the school. And she was really good at all of it.

“I didn’t have a frame of reference at the time, and didn’t realize that most operations the size of the law school would require a small army of vendors and employees for the work she was doing, mostly on her own.”

Today, law.virginia.edu is a robust website that garners millions of views each year, although UVA’s Drupal developers are now responsible for the underlying framework. Wood currently oversees a full-time team of four professionals working across multiple digital and print platforms. In 2016, she became editor of the twice-a-year UVA Lawyer magazine, and led an effort to redesign the publication. In 2019, she helped launch the “Common Law” podcast, which Goluboff hosts with Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick ’06.

Goluboff said Wood’s advice on the podcast and in other matters has been “critically important.”

“Mary and her team amplify faculty scholarship, support student-led events and initiatives, introduce the Law School to prospective students, and connect our alumni and friends to our community and each other,” Goluboff said.

The dean pointed out that Wood has maintained all of the normal aspects of communications service, in addition to some new ones, even as the pandemic created disruptions, beginning in the spring.

The nomination package also notes Wood’s efforts in the past year assisting in the ultimately successful proposal for the creation of the UVA Equity Center. She provided interim communications support for the center.

In addition, employees past and present mentioned Wood’s many personal kindnesses. Former journalist Ashley B. Matthews ’12 worked for her as a temporary employee before deciding to become a lawyer.

“Mary championed my cause and supported me through my entire law school career,” wrote Matthews, now an associate at McGuireWoods in Charlottesville. 

All of Wood’s current employees provided letters of support for the award, which included gratitude for help during a medical emergency and appreciation for her tradition of baking for employees on their birthdays.  

Wood earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from UVA. She said she was pleased to be able to give back to her alma mater, and appreciated Law School leaders’ support for a growing communications department over the years.

“This award is a credit to my talented team — Warren Craghead, Julia Davis, Mike Fox and Eric Williamson — as well as our freelance print designer Bill Womack and other contributors over the years, who really care about getting the story of the Law School right,” she said. “It’s also a credit to everyone who works and studies at the Law School, as well as to our graduates. They make our jobs easier with all the amazing work they do, and inspire us every day.”

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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