Woodrow W. Sayre Was Adventurous Climber, Thinker
Philosophy professor and mountain climber Woodrow Wilson Sayre died at his home in Vineyard Haven, on Sept. 16. He was 83.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College, Dr. Sayre served in the United States Air Force from 1942 to 1947 before earning his master's and doctorate degrees from Harvard University. He was then a professor of philosophy at Pomona College in California, at Tufts University in Medford, and at Springfield College in Springfield.
A maverick in mind, spirit, and heart, Dr. Sayre led a four-man, privately-financed expedition to Mount Everest in 1962. Only 12 attempts on the peak had been made to that point, all of them using bottled oxygen, which Sayre and his team did not use. Though accidents and bad weather stopped the team short of the summit, Sayre himself reached an altitude of 25,500 feet. His book, Four Against Everest, helped popularize climbing by describing its beauties and exhilarations, and dramatizing its unequalled opportunities for both solitude and companionship. Immortal friendships are formed, he wrote, "when you have walked the feather edge of danger with someone, when you have held his life at the end of a rope. The deepest friendships spring from sharing danger as well as safety, failure as well as success."
A beloved presence on Martha's Vineyard for many decades, Woodrow Sayre was a master of chess, Scrabble, sailing, crossword puzzles, and duplicate bridge. He served on the Tisbury finance committee, and was a stirring performer in many Island dramatic events.
He was the son of Francis B. Sayre, former commissioner to the Philippines, and of Jessie Wilson Sayre, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson. He is survived by his daughters, Jennifer Sayre of Martha's Vineyard and Martha Sayre Caliri of Braintree; his granddaughter, Mollie Caliri; his stepchildren, Elizabeth Badaracco of Framingham and Jeffrey Sayre of Martha's Vineyard, and his brother, Francis B. Sayre, Jr., retired dean of the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Woodrow Sayre's life was one of intellectual, spiritual and physical adventure. "Mere security is a barren ideal," he wrote. "It is more exciting to discover new lands, and to think what may be just over the next ridge."
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 3 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. The family has asked that memorial gifts in his name be given to Grace Church.
Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs.