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History Briefs

Pete Woodruff: Lawyer, Artist, Sailor, Spy

Attorney Judson Sage “Pete” Woodruff was a man of many, many talents, to say the least. In addition to being a “whip smart” lawyer and masterful writer, he was an accomplished artist and engaging storyteller. The latter was not particularly surprising, given his accumulated wealth of life experiences and adventures.

Pete Woodruff’s high school portrait

Before settling down in Oklahoma City and joining the law firm of McAfee, Dudley, Taft, Cates, Kuntz & Mark in 1963 at the age of 38, Woodruff had already traveled the world — quite literally — by air, land and sea. His daughter, Jenny Woodruff, attributes the amazing breadth and depth of his life experiences to the fact that that he was curious about everything.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1925, Woodruff graduated from high school at the age of 16 and made his way to the University of Oklahoma on an ROTC scholarship. World War II would temporarily interrupt his college education plans, though. While still in his teens, Woodruff was commissioned as a U.S. Navy ensign and served aboard a destroyer during the war. Several years later, he was discharged with the rank of lieutenant and returned to OU to complete his studies, earning his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics in 1948 and then going on to earn his law degree in 1950.

Woodruff’s travels would then take him to the East Coast, where he pursued a master of laws degree at Yale University. After graduation, his life took an unexpected turn: instead of immediately embarking on a legal career, the 26-year-old accepted an offer to become a CIA agent and was stationed in post-WWII Japan. In typical CIA fashion, exactly what he did remains a mystery, even to his children, to this day. Jenny Woodruff recalls that when her dad was asked about his specific assignments as a government agent, he faithfully, but respectfully, declined to answer, saying “I made an oath.”

Pete Woodruff with Marathon Oil Company

Leaving the world of covert operations behind for a legal career, Woodruff returned to Oklahoma several years later and worked as a federal law clerk for a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma and taught at the University of Tulsa for a year before joining the legal department at Marathon Oil Company in its Tulsa office. His globetrotting days, however, were far from over. More travels and relocations would follow — first to Marathon’s headquarters in Ohio, then to stints in Switzerland and Libya. Before returning to Oklahoma and joining the firm in late 1963, he traveled extensively, overseeing Marathon’s operations across Europe and the Middle East.

Woodruff remained with McAfee & Taft until his retirement in 1990. From 1973 until the firm amended its articles of incorporation in 1980, he was a name partner in the “long firm name days” of McAfee, Taft, Mark, Bond, Rucks and Woodruff.