In 1974, during a job interview in New York with an executive from NBC News, Ms. Woodruff was told she needed to work on getting rid of her Southern accent, she recalled. She returned to Atlanta and found a voice coach in the Yellow Pages. Before she could begin lessons, the executive called her. She was hired in early 1975 to report from the NBC News bureau in Atlanta.
Ms. Woodruff’s dispatches began to appear on “NBC Nightly News” and “Today.” By the middle of the year, she was urging the network to pay closer attention to Mr. Carter, who was running for president but lagging in the polls, and she filed occasional stories on his campaign.
After Mr. Carter won the New Hampshire primary in 1976, NBC gave the assignment to more experienced reporters — men, obviously. Ms. Woodruff stayed on as a junior reporter, a role that nonetheless made her one of the so-called boys on the bus, a phrase used at the time for the reporters covering presidential campaigns, a group that included Sam Donaldson of ABC News.
While reporting on Mr. Carter in Steubenville, Ohio, Ms. Woodruff caught the eye of her future husband, Albert Hunt, who was then a national politics reporter for The Wall Street Journal. “I did something that they would drum you out of polite society if you did today,” Mr. Hunt said. “I got on the bus and I said to Sam Donaldson, ‘Sam, who is the blonde with the great legs?’”
Ms. Woodruff and Mr. Hunt formally met at a softball game in Plains, where Mr. Carter’s campaign staff members competed against the reporters, according to her 1982 book, “This Is Judy Woodruff at the White House.” She evaded the smitten Mr. Hunt until after Mr. Carter’s inauguration. They were married in 1980.
With Mr. Carter in the White House, Ms. Woodruff became a White House correspondent for NBC News. “It was clear to everyone that she just knew more about Jimmy Carter than anyone else in Washington,” said Tom Brokaw, who covered the White House for NBC before eventually becoming the network’s evening anchor.