Journalist, author, trustee of the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, and UALR’s 2011 Distinguished Alumnus John L. Ward died Thursday, Nov. 29, following a lengthy fight against cancer. He was 81.
He is survived by his wife, the former Betty Chandler, a son, and a daughter. Services are pending with Roller-McNutt Funeral Home in Conway.
“John Ward was Arkansas through and through. He was a political strategist, a gubernatorial adviser, a public relations man, an editor, an author, and much more. In all roles he worked to make Arkansas a better place,” said UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson. “In addition to that, with a wonderful sense of humor, he was always good for a laugh. I never had a conversation with him I did not enjoy. We were all enriched by his life and are impoverished by his passing.”
A one-time high school band director, Ward was a full-time news reporter at the Arkansas Democrat and the father of two children while finishing his B.A. degree requirements at night at what was then Little Rock University.
He graduated in 1968, a year before Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller signed legislation changing the institution’s name and making it part of the state university system.
“It was the most satisfying academic experience of my life,” Ward said of his time at UALR. “It was a great learning environment. They treated you the way you should be treated – that you were not out there for any other reason than to get an education and go out in the marketplace and use it.”
In May 2011, UALR presented Ward with its annual Distinguished Alumnus Award, adding his portrait to a wall of fame in the Bailey Alumni Center.
A professional saxophone player, he was a few credits shy of a music degree when the reporting bug caught him. His editor at the Democrat set him loose across the state to find and pursue interesting stories. One of them – about a schizophrenic man at the state hospital – caught the attention of Winthrop Rockefeller, who was preparing to run for governor.
From 1964 through 1971, Ward was director of public relations for Rockefeller’s operations and was campaign manager for his boss’ successful re-election as governor in 1968. Years later, Ward was invited to be campaign manager for the governor’s son, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, in his successful campaign for lieutenant governor.
Ward’s biography of Winthrop Rockefeller, one of the four brothers who were grandsons of Standard Oil Co. founder John D. Rockefeller, was published in 1978 by Louisiana State University Press. Ward wrote a second book about the elder Rockefeller, “Winthrop Rockefeller, Philanthropist,” published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2004.
Ward was a member of the board of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and served as chair for four years. He became director of information services for the University of Arkansas System until 1988 when he was named vice president for public affairs at the University of Central Arkansas.
He eventually joined the administrative staff of the University of Arkansas System, where he remained until January 2005, when he was named director of marketing and public relations for The Winthrop Rockefeller Center, now The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, located on Petit Jean Mountain.
Ward also served many years as chair of The Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lectures Committee and also served for a time as a director of the Oxford American, a literary magazine published at UCA.
His honors include the American Cancer Society’s Special Citation for a series of articles; the “Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Service“ from the Institute of Politics and Government; the “Man Of the Year 1981” designation from the Arkansas Press Association; the “Distinguished Service Award” from the Arkansas Press Association in 1982; and the “Distinguished Service Award” from UALR in 1983.
He is a charter member and former president of the of the Arkansas chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, Society of Professional Journalists.