Having lived through a transformational time in American history, which included the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. William E. Ward found his calling in education and politics. Not only the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired him, Dr. Ward says, "but the action and commitment of the man and the sacrifices he made."
The son of a single mother in Charlotte County, Va., Dr. Ward attended segregated Central High School as part of a class of 140. Four years later, 27 of his classmates had graduated high school and five went on to college. Dr. Ward was among three who graduated, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia State University and later a master’s and doctorate from Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
An experience he had as a college student shaped his evolution into social activist and politician. Coming home from Atlantic City on a train and hungry for breakfast, he sat down in a restaurant during a stop in Richmond, Va. The African American waiter told him he could not sit in the seat he had chosen.
The importance of inclusion over exclusion is a value Dr. Ward holds dear, never more so than when he and his wife, Dr. Rose M. Ward, moved to the city of Chesapeake in 1963. At that time, Chesapeake, like many cities in the South, excluded African Americans from voting by means of a poll tax and literacy test. Dr. Ward was among those who vowed to change the status quo. In 1970, voters elected the first two African Americans to City Council, in part because of work by Dr. Ward and others of the Chesapeake Men for Progress – a group of which he later became president.
In 1967, Dr. Ward became a professor of history at Norfolk State University, a position he held until retiring in 2000. Dr. Ward, now Norfolk State’s legislative liaison and a professor emeritus, served the university in numerous capacities, including Chair of the Martin Luther King, Jr. observance and of African American History Month.
Dr. Ward was elected to Chesapeake City Council in 1978 and appointed mayor in October 1990 when the incumbent was forced to resign. He was re-elected in 1992, 1996, and 2000 – the longest tenure of any mayor in the city. During his years in office, the city experienced unprecedented economic growth and development. "I served 14 successful years as mayor in a city that is 78 percent majority race, and I always had the strong support of the business community," Dr. Ward says. "I always tried to be a bridge builder. I worked in the best interest of all the people in the city and became known as a man who could and would compromise."
While mayor, Dr. Ward served on the Hampton Roads Partnership, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and the Southeastern Public Service Authority.
The Wards’ children also pursued education, though he credits Rose for steering them in that direction. Their son, Mr. Michael Ward, is principal of Crestwood Middle School, and their daughter, Dr. Michelle W. Woodhouse, is provost of TCC’s Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.
Dr. Ward remains a modest man, noting, "On my tombstone, all I want are the words ‘Public Servant.’ "
Tidewater Community College is proud to present its 2014 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Distinguished Service Award to Dr. William E. Ward on this, the 23rd day of January in the year 2014.