On Friday, October 11, Dr. Woodie Flowers passed away unexpectedly. News made it to the FIRST community late Saturday, as the first day of ROBOTICON wrapped up.  Ken Johnson, Director of FIRST Tech Challenge, was attending ROBOTICON, which, as a University of South Florida alum, he tries to do each year. so he was he was on hand to share his thoughts the next morning, when we opened day two of ROBOTICON.   The following are his remarks.


Dr. Woodie Flowers passed away Friday night. His passing was unexpected by the FIRST community.  In fact Woodie has been so ingrained in FIRST it’s hard to imagine this organization without him.

Woodie was born in Louisiana on New Years Day, 1943. He grew up there and learned to love mechanical engineering through hot rods he and his friends built, he once told me.

He graduated from Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and then went on to Massachusetts Institute of Technology earning his Masters of Science, Masters of Engineering, and Ph.D. He then taught at M.I.T. and made popular a Design and Manufacturing class by featuring a competition to build robots to compete in a different challenge each year. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

In 1992 he and Dean Kamen developed FIRST Robotics Competition around the model he started at M.I.T. What you see here today, and saw yesterday, is a direct result of that work.

More importantly Woodie created the soul of FIRST. Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition – these key attributes of FIRST come from Woodie. Working hard and competing, while respecting others, and helping others succeed – lifts us all.

Many people here and throughout the FIRST community have met Woodie. That’s pretty amazing when you realize we have over 570,000 students and 300,000 volunteers participating in FIRST every year – but’s it is 100% true.

Woodie understood his role in all of this. He spent hours and hours at events meeting people. The shirts he wore each season started out new, and he collected signatures on those shirts at every event he attended. By World Championships those shirts were covered.

Woodie is gone, but his impact on FIRST, and on each and every one of us is strong – and it will not fade. The FIRST Programs, and the impact they make carry Woodie’s legacy forward… and the world will continue to be better as a result.

We’re all sad, but I know what Woodie would want from us right now. He would appreciate that we’re remembering him, but he’d insist we carry on, not just through today but through this season, next season, and for 1,000 more seasons building on the values he instilled….. and

He’d say get more people into FIRST, get everyone into FIRST, it’s too important to leave anyone behind.

So please, let’s honor Dr Woodie Flowers and make this another wonderful event, and make FIRST programs available to as many people around the world as we can. Woodie will be proud.


In tribute to Dr. Flowers, students lined up to sign a blue shirt throughout the rest of the day, which is being sent to the Flowers family from all of us at ROBOTICON.

We concluded the event with a supplication to students, coaches, mentors, families, friends and guests to,  “Go be the people Dr. Woodie Flowers believed you are: first in Gracious Professionalism, first in coopertition, first in kindness and first in friendship.”

As Dr. Flowers would have said – that’s Good Stuff.  Keep it going.