‘His Gentle Sparkle’: Family, Friends Remember Toby Woods at Well-Attended Funeral


Toby Matthew Woods

When he was little, Toby Woods was very cuddly, his mom recalled Sunday.

He’d give his parents “enormous tight hugs, wrapping his arms around us, and laying his head on our shoulder,” Kristina Woods told hundreds of people gathered at First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan for her son’s funeral service.

“He loved snuggling with his stuffed animals, and climbing into our bed in the middle of the night,” she said. “As he grew older, he still gave the tightest, most wonderful hugs.”

Described by family and friends as intelligent, thoughtful, talented, compassionate, loving and fun, Toby Woods died Feb. 21 in Williamstown, Mass. He was 18. 

Friends and educators from New Canaan High School, where Toby Woods graduated in 2023, and Williams College, where he was a freshman, packed into the pews at First Presbyterian on a windy, rainy afternoon. Led in prayer by the Rev. Scott Herr, the service included the singing of hymns “Be Thou My Vision” and “Abide with Me,” “Ave Maria” sung by soprano Lisa Flanagan, readings from brother Nicholas Woods and Herr, “An Irish Blessing” sung by members and alumni of the NCHS Choir, conducted by Sarah Gleason, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings, Op. 11” played by Leo Ficks, Akiko Silver, Kate Dorfman and Ilya Levitin and personal reflections from parents Kristina and Peter Woods and friends Praja Tickoo, Julia Paine, Kai Farese and Sabrina Arastu.

Toby Woods spent a week or two during childhood summers on Cape Cod, where he “loved joining in to the grand plans created by his brother,” Kristina Woods recalled.

“Running across the wide open sandbars, digging, carrying buckets of water, and building elaborate crab cities,” she continued. “Over the years, Toby carried the memories of his joint childhood with Nicholas, from his time, and others, the way only a brother can.”

He loved to make fruit smoothies “that were so thick that they jammed the blender and had to be eaten with a spoon,” Kristina Woods recalled.

“He could pack for a two-week trip with just a carry-on and still have a lot of space to spare,” she said. “Toby loved to help in the kitchen. Chatting, stirring and hanging around. Right up until the instant when we had all finished eating and it was time to help clean everything up. Then he would try to slip away, claiming he suddenly had loads of other very urgent things to do. Toby had a wonderful senior year of high school, enjoying his friends, and his classes, and a Model UN trip to the Netherlands, and orchestra concerts, and senior prom. He loved his internship at the Town Hall, including drafting passionate pitches for car-free days on Elm Street.”

Though his parents knew that Toby had “incredibly close friends from all different parts of his life” who “meant the world to him,” Kristina Woods recalled, over the past few weeks “we’ve been finding out that in addition to these close friends, there were so many others, both kids his age as well as adults in his life who had connected with Toby in such personal and specific ways.”

“It’s hard to explain what learning about these connections has meant to us,” she said. “The strength of them. The number of them. I guess I’m not sure where he found the time. When you think of times when you thought Toby was happy, please don’t doubt yourself. He was happy. And also, over the last year-and-a-half, he sometimes felt deep pain, too, but not every moment, and not every day. And some of his most treasured friendships grew even stronger during that time. Please remember him as you knew him. Remember his quiet curiosity, his commitment to his friends and his gentle sparkle. Remember him for how he lived.”

In addition to his parents and brother, Toby Woods is survived by his grandmother (“Nana”) Elaine Wojcik Lynnworth, his aunts and uncles Joe and Jane Wojcik, Jackie and Roo Gold, and Richard and Kate Woods. He is also survived by cousins Alex and Ashley Wojcik and Ellie, Fred and Louisa Gold. He was predeceased by his grandfather (“Papa”) Frank Wojcik and his grandparents Shirley and John Woods (“Granny and Grandpa”).

Peter Woods said that one of his favorite things about Toby was when he’d hear his son’s footsteps coming upstairs “and he’d come and find me and say, ‘Dad, can I show you something?’ And he’d sit down next to me and show me what he’d been working on, or some new idea that caught his imagination.”

“And he’d be so excited to talk about it and so excited to share it, because that’s what he did,” Peter Woods recalled. “He had this extraordinary curiosity and drive to discover and learn and master new things. And then to give that knowledge away freely. To explain things in that kind and patient way of his. He was like this with music, too, which was so central to him, in all its different ways, from his orchestras and ensembles, to going to concerts, to listening to it and analyzing it. He studied cello and piano when he was little. He originally picked cello partly because it is the only instrument you can do in elementary school where you always get to sit down. And he figured out early on that if you do your entire week with piano practice in the 15 minutes right before a lesson, then it’s going to sound really fresh and look like you were working really hard.”

In recent years, Peter Woods said that he and his son had fun looking through upcoming concerts in Connecticut, New York and London and that Toby’s favorite seats “were right behind the orchestra, where you feel like you are part of the very performance, facing the conductor and the audience, and immersed in the full force of the music and emotion.”

Sitting next to his son, Peter Woods said he could feel “an electricity between him and the music.”

“Sometimes we’d steal a glance at each other when we knew a good bit was coming, and have this tingle of anticipation together,” he said. “It was so wonderful to hear him play his beautiful cello. And when he was in a concert, he loved nothing more than to stand up and introduce the pieces, explaining what the composer was intending and what the state of mind was. What they had been going through as people when they wrote it. It felt so important for him for the audience to know this. And those ad lib intros that many of you saw seemed to come so effortlessly to him, I’d ask him afterwards, ‘How do you do that, Tobes? How do you know what to say?’ And he’d just smile.”

Toby Woods also loved to travel, especially hiking among the mountains of Switzerland, “which is a special and happy place for all our family,” Peter Woods said.

“Surrounded by those extraordinary, fabulous mountains in awe and in communion with the sublime landscape,” he said. “And all these things were all sought out and found at Williams College in Massachusetts. A place where you can learn, make music, and connect with people, and live literally nestled in the Berkshire Mountains. And I think in all this, what he was drawn to was being part of something bigger than himself. Touching something slightly beyond the everyday, and just out of reach, and then bringing it back and sharing it with others so that they can be part of it too. It was quite magical.”

He added, “But maybe it’s the smaller moments I’ll miss the most.”

Those include “watching him and Kristina cook together, leaning in over the pots on the stove and finishing each other’s half sentences,” Peter Woods said.

He continued: “Looking on as he and Nicholas raced off to the next roller-coaster at amusement parks while we stayed on the ground. Seeing him snack on blackberries straight from the container while propping open the fridge door. Doing a puzzle or Legos together and just chatting or quietly handing each other the pieces. He was such a great companion.”

Peter Woods thanked those in attendance for coming and “for sharing your own wonderful, vibrant stories about Toby, they mean the world to us.”

He concluded: “Remember to be kind to yourselves, and remember to stay connected with your friends, wherever they may be. And if you catch yourself thinking of Toby in the months from here ahead, please just always reach out and let us know, because we will be, too. I leave you with this. There are so many emotions you could have right now, and so many things you could be feeling. So what should you do? Why not just choose love?”

Herr during his own pastoral meditation said he had “complete faith that Toby is now in the full presence of God’s grace and love and compassion.”

“Toby is at peace,” Herr said. “I’m humbled by the love, the courage and the care that Peter and Kristina and Nick have shown in the last couple weeks—shown to one another, to the larger community.”

Herr noted that Toby Woods’s middle name is Matthew, “which means ‘gift of God.’ ”

“Remember and celebrate Toby’s many gifts,” he said. “All the goodness and truth and beauty and kindness and joy and love.”

Tickoo said that since elementary school, everyone knew that Toby Woods was a brilliant person, yet in spending thousands of hours with his friend, “I learned that Toby was beyond just brilliant.”

“He was one of the kindest, most passionate and most supportive people I’ve ever met,” Tickoo said. “Toby was there for everyone. There are many of us here today who have called Toby in times of desperation. Whether it be cramming for a test or even just stuck on a homework problem, Toby stayed on the phone for as long as it took for us to understand the concept. But for me and countless others, it went beyond just academics. Sophomore year, during the midst of the COVID pandemic, a foot injury prevented me from going to school for two weeks. I felt alone. Isolated from my friends, I sat at home watching lectures on Zoom. Toby recognized that I wasn’t doing well and checked in on me several times a day. Every afternoon, Toby spent hours catching me up on what I missed.”

When he got back to school, “it was like I had never even left,” Tickoo said.

“I’ll always remember Toby being there for me when I needed it most,” he said.

Another NCHS classmate, Julia Paine, said that Toby Woods “has always been someone that I could count on.”

“During the challenges of Zoom school, Toby remained a pillar of strength and friendship,” Paine said. “Thanks to him, my memories of COVID are scattered with fun thoughts of our Minecraft server, we would so frequently play together, or hours spent sharing laughs over a FaceTime call. I could always count on the fact that Toby would pick up my calls and proceed to prop up the phone on his monitor, continuing to do his work while entertaining my silly conversations and random interruptions. Toby’s unwavering presence brought joy to even the dullest of COVID and Zoom-ridden days. His willingness to step up for others was unparalleled. When I texted him asking if he would ask my friend to junior prom, he not only agreed but was even excited to create and put on a prom-proposal, and even allowed us to post photos on the grade-wide Instagram. There is no one else in the world that I knew I could count on to put 100% effort into such a task.”

Paine added that with every memory she has of her friend, “there comes his infectious smile.”

“And one that I came to rely on as a source of joy,” she said. “Nearly every time I glanced at Toby, I would always see him smiling, with the exception of when he was focusing on the test, and somehow he still managed to be the calmest person in the room. And it was a smile that brought joy to those around him.”

Kai Farese said that though they’d been classmates for years, she became close friends with Toby Woods after meeting him in their junior year at NCHS, in the pit orchestra of “The Little Mermaid” musical.

“Before the ‘Little Mermaid’ production, I knew Toby as a smart, capable, and almost robotic human, but after I knew him as a loving, hilarious and unique individual,” Farese said.

Her friend was “more than just a successful student,” she added.

“He was a loyal, emotional, sensitive individual with a borderline obsession for classical music, minimalism and Legos,” Farese said, drawing laughter from the congregation. “Additionally, despite his protests, he really loved his friends and being around them. No matter what they were going through, he was always able to comfort, support and help them.  He would do anything for the people he truly loved.”

Toby Woods’s strength also was a defining characteristic, she said.

“He was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known,” Farese said. “And despite what he was going through in high school and afterwards, he never tried to get attention or pity for his struggles. Instead, he tried to solve them and fight his battles, until he decided that it was time for a rest. And now, he’s resting peacefully. I say this all so that you can understand who Toby was. He was a young man full of curiosity, love, and humor who inspired and helped everyone around him, whose life was taken too soon.”

Another friend, Sabrina Arastu, recalled her friend’s “sincerity, his kindness, and his passion for learning,” as exemplified by what she called “a Toby Woods experience.”

“A Toby Woods experience is when you admit to having a bad day and his response is to apply Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Meditations’ to your life, explaining a depth and meaning to the philosophy that you didn’t even know was possible, and along the way making your day that much better,” she said.

Arastu continued: “A Toby Woods experience is when you have a friend who always shows up for you, who always makes you feel valued and who’s always there for you, no matter what. He lit up every room he entered with his kindness, curiosity and intelligence. Every interaction that Toby had with others made them feel loved and valued beyond belief, making it an honor for anyone to be part of his life. Every moment of the Toby Woods experience he carried us along with him on an inspiring and passionate journey that introduced us to a completely new world—a world of music, of philosophy, of spontaneity, heart and friendship.”

Herr said during a Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession, “You have given us Toby to know of love, and we give You thanks for his infectious smile. His love of philosophy and humor and  companionship, and cooking and sports. His quiet sparkle, his gentle curiosity. His imagination, his drive to discover new knowledge, and his generosity in wanting to share that knowledge with others. His love for and talent in playing the cello and other instruments, his knack for beautiful friendship, his love for travel and music in general, his love for loyalty and Legos. We are thankful for his seriousness and his goofiness, his love of creation, his heart to serve and his faith in the depth of Your love. And so we’re thankful for his memory and for his abiding faith in all the goodness and blessing that passed from his life into ours. God, uphold us now as we entrust him to Your boundless love and eternal care. Thank You for the reminder that not even death can separate us from Your infinite mercy and love. Comfort us that we may know Your sure consolation and live in confident hope of and joy in the resurrection.”

The family welcomes any donations to the Toby Woods Memorial Fund, ℅ New Canaan Community Foundation, 111 Cherry St., New Canaan, CT 06840 or online here. The fund will be used to support music, education and mental health. The full funeral service for Toby Woods can be viewed here.

2 thoughts on “‘His Gentle Sparkle’: Family, Friends Remember Toby Woods at Well-Attended Funeral

  1. What a beautiful person Toby sounds like. I wish I had the privilege of knowing him. May he Rest In Peace. God Speed.

  2. Sitting here with goose bumps reading about your beloved Toby inspires one (and the many) with gratitude for his marvelous life. He must have come into this world with one foot staying in Heaven because of his ability to love so generously his family and friends, to live so fully in the beauty and challenges of this world. Now ouf of sight, this young man will continue to watch over his loved ones until he greets them when they go to their eternal home. God bless his precious family and friends.

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