Remembering Toby Woods

Williams students, faculty, and staff,

I am writing to share more information about Toby Woods, a first-year student and member of the class of 2027, from New Canaan, Connecticut, where he graduated from New Canaan High School. As I shared in an earlier message, Toby died this week. I have been in close contact with his family, who has been at the center of our thoughts, as they process this terrible loss. 

Toby was a passionate student who loved learning. A prospective economics and music major who always sought to expand his mind and deepen his intellectual grasp, he worked to bring together his learning from one field into another. Tony Sheppard, the Marylin and Arthur Levitt Professor of Music, said of Toby: “He was a student of quiet brilliance, always engaged and interested, consistently impressive. His devotion to learning was so clearly genuine. One day he mentioned he really enjoyed the prelude to an opera we were studying and was trying to learn it at the piano, even though he was primarily a cellist. Somewhat in jest, I invited him to the piano to play, and he got up, sat down at the bench, and proceeded to play this difficult piece from memory. The class applauded, and Toby blushed and modestly returned to his seat.” 

A dedicated musician, Toby studied cello and piano since childhood. In his college application essay, he described what it meant to him to play music, including his own arrangement of Brahms’ Double Concerto: “I have the entire piece memorized and I’m the one playing the notes, but Brahms is in control; I’m but a wanderer in the world he created. There’s something more than just the science of sound waves at work; the music lifts my soul. It feels discovered, not composed.”

At Williams, in addition to courses in music, economics and philosophy, Toby explored math, computer science and sociology. He was involved in the Alhambra Consulting Group, earning a runner-up spot at their Third Annual Case Competition last month. In the fall, he worked on a project for a local pizza restaurant and had recently begun another project supporting the Special Olympics.

He also played in the Berkshire Symphony and took cello lessons. In the words of cello teacher, Julian Müller: “Toby’s alert, attentive, and always at the ready temperament infectiously held the room, especially when he played the cello. His listening to the potentials that lay within the music were ever-growing and expanding, for the ultimate depth and truth of expression. His sincerity of approach to constantly explore and experience vocation, craft and quotidian happenings with curiosity, devotion and love will endlessly inspire.”

This January, Toby took the Winter Study course Stradivari, with Jason Price ’00. The class was part history, part performance, part science and technology. According to Price, “Toby was a bright young cellist, extraordinarily curious about music and history and eager to learn. His project for my course was an analysis of changes in the ownership of Stradivari instruments over the past three centuries. I learned from this clever and sincere young man and send my condolences to his friends, family and to the entire Williams community.”

Toby is described by those who knew him well as kind and supportive of others’ success both in school and in their extracurricular pursuits. In addition to music, he had a great love of travel, visiting extended family in England and going on hiking trips in Switzerland. This love of the outdoors continued at Williams as he explored the trails behind the Clark, Pine Cobble and others.

As we mourn our loss, please remember there are resources where you can turn for support, including Integrative Wellbeing Services, the Chaplains’ Office, the Dean’s Office or Davis Center staff.

Later in the semester, the chaplains will collaborate with students to plan a memorial to honor Toby’s life. We will send details in the days ahead.

I know you join me in extending the deepest condolences of the Williams community to the Woods family in their time of loss.