A Brunswick native and senior at Bowdoin College drowned this week while kayaking in Washington, the school’s president announced.

“This afternoon we learned the terribly sad news that Finnegan Woodruff drowned today while kayaking in Washington state,” Clayton Rose said in a letter to members of the Bowdoin community on Tuesday. “This tragic accident took place on the White Salmon River in White Salmon, Washington, as Finn was doing something he loved.”

Finnegan Woodruff Photo courtesy Bowdoin Orient

Woodruff was the son of Mike Woodruff, a Bowdoin College alumnus and director of the school’s outing club, and Lucretia Woodruff. He grew up on his family’s farm in Brunswick and was the salutatorian of the Brunswick High School class of 2017 before staying close to home for college. He was one month shy of his 23rd birthday, according to an obituary published online in the Bowdoin Orient on Friday.

“When an injury forced him to take a medical leave during his first year, he discovered a sewing machine in the Woodruff basement and began experimenting with fabric,” Rose wrote. “Vests, hoodies, shirts and the perfect pair of pants would follow, building into a funded internship. What Finn discovered in the process was a deep devotion for creating things matched only by his steadfast and boundless love for the outdoors.”

Woodruff was an environmental studies and music major at Bowdoin and was taking classes at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon, to earn the remaining credits for his Bowdoin degree.

“Finn wrote like a budding essayist, played fiddle like an angel and skied like a demon – but above all he proved you could be talented, smart and kind at the same time,” Matthew Klingle, an associate professor of history and environmental studies, told the Orient. Klingle was Woodruff’s teacher in the spring of 2020 and skiing companion for many winters.

Matt O’Donnell, a close family friend, said Woodruff and his girlfriend renovated a trailer and drove out to the West Coast in late spring or early summer.

They went to Oregon, he said, “because they’re outdoorsy and adventurous” and it provided an outlet for their love of nature while allowing Woodruff the opportunity to continue his education and stay on track to receive his diploma from Bowdoin next month.

O’Donnell was not aware of the difficulty of kayaking on the White Salmon River, but said Woodruff “enjoyed adventure but was not a risk-taker for the sake of taking risks,” he said. “I think it was just a normal day on the river.”

Woodruff “was a consummate student in whatever he did” and would have known what he was getting into on the river and confident in his ability to handle it, O’Donnell said. Woodruff has been a paddler “for most of his life,” beginning on trips with his father and continuing up to the present.

“He was super fit and super strong and super smart,” O’Donnell said.

While still in Maine this past spring, Woodruff was already working on his senior music performance project of original fiddle music, the Bowdoin Orient said in a feature story about him in April.

Woodruff told the paper that he began playing the fiddle at 7 when his mother was learning to play. Growing up, he attended fiddle camp, took private lessons and performed with local bluegrass bands, calling himself a “freelance fiddle player.”

The original songs he was working on for his senior project drew on his experience playing bluegrass, jazz and folk music, he told the Orient.

“This is an unfathomable and devastating loss for the Woodruff family, for Finn’s classmates and friends, and for our entire community,” Rose wrote. “In many ways, Finn grew up here – Bowdoin was home. There are really no words to express the profound sadness many of us are feeling as we think about Finn and the Woodruff family. Our hearts go out to them, and to the many people at Bowdoin who watched Finn grow up and who came to appreciate all that he contributed to our community as a young man.”

Woodruff spent much of his childhood paddling with his father and helping out on the family’s farm, Milkweed Farm.

“He was a dedicated farm hand and inherited (Lucretia’s) work ethic and nurturing spirit,” family friend Lisa Bossi told the Orient.

His friends described Woodruff as a “small but confident, curious and caring” child and later “a doting older brother to his three younger siblings, Seamus, Maeve and Daire, ages 18, 16 and 13.”

“This was his dream, to be in a place where he could be paddling all the time,” Jacqui Boben ’22, a fellow paddler and one of Woodruff’s close friends, told the Orient of Woodruff’s move to Oregon. “He wouldn’t have wanted his life (to be) any other way than what it was.”

Resources for Bowdoin students will be made available at the campus’ counseling center.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.

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