Stephen E. Ward, 81, of Reston, Virginia, died at home, surrounded by family, on October 16. Steve was the first of four sons, born on March 10, 1940 to James and Doris Ward of East Orange, New Jersey, and was raised in the town of Glen Ridge. He is survived by his two sons, Tony and Andy, two daughters-in-law, five grandchildren, and his beloved wife of 59 years – whom he met when he was 15 years old – Emily Ward.
Steve was a man of deep intellectual gifts, and a profound inability to take himself too seriously. The things he achieved in life, and the breadth of the knowledge he accrued, were not in service of some need to be important; they were simply the manifestation of his bottomless curiosity and the high standards to which he held himself. He graduated from Amherst College in 1963, received a Master’s Degree from the Columbia School of Public and International Affairs, and then embarked on a distinguished career as a Foreign Service Officer. In his ten years at the State Department, Steve and Emily were stationed across the Middle East, from Lebanon to Turkey to Jerusalem to Syria, where he survived an attack on the consulate in Aleppo in 1967 and received an official commendation for his bravery under pressure. Upon returning home in 1973, he served briefly as a speechwriter for the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, before moving up Constitution Avenue to work as a legislative aide to Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Steve’s years with Bentsen included stints on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Bentsen served as Chairman, and on the 1988 Vice Presidential Campaign, where he traveled the country, crafting Bentsen’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, talking points for media appearances, and debate zingers destined for posterity (“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”), before returning home to his family after a crushing defeat to George H.W. Bush. At this point, Steve left the world of public service and became a lobbyist for the energy industry, first with Mid-Continent Oil and Gas, and then with Shell Oil. He retired at the age of 62.
Even in retirement, however, Steve was determined to stay active, and find ways to give back to others. He brushed up on his Spanish (he spoke Arabic, as well, and could order a sandwich in French with elan) and trained to become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, working on behalf of abused or neglected children in Northern Virginia. He also worked as the Executive Director of the National Fund for the United States Botanical Garden, which supports the garden’s educational initiatives and outreach to children in the Washington area. Steve and Emily also provided generous assistance to the Laurel Learning Center in Reston, which offers childcare for children in need.
As impressive and varied as Steve’s career may have been, he was a man whose true identity was not defined by his professional life. His passions and interests ranged from his grandchildren to reading to the New York Yankees to baked goods (consuming, not making) to folk art to the music of Freewheelin’-era Bob Dylan to early morning solo walks on the beach at his beloved Kiawah Island, South Carolina. At any given moment, on the nightstand by his bed, you might find a biography of U.S. Grant; the new Louise Erdrich novel; Philip Roth’s Patrimony, which he held close and read many times after his own father’s death; a collection of Robert Frost poetry; an issue of the New Yorker; the sports page; and, of course, the New York Times crossword puzzle, which he took enormous pleasure in defeating in pen, in a matter of minutes – even on Sunday. Steve’s speechwriting roots reflected a lifelong reverence for language, and the idea that words matter. His love of language wasn’t confined to political rhetoric; writing was an essential aspect of his life, his way of marking time, memorializing what matters, and expressing love. Steve was the poet laureate of his family, writing poems to commemorate milestone birthdays and wedding anniversaries, christenings and weddings, special occasions for his adored (and adoring) grandkids, and maybe most important of all, annual birthday and Valentine’s Day poems for his enduring crush, his wife, Emily. As he wrote to her in 2004, “I hope this latest love song will/Remind you that I love you still/And will so long as oceans carve/The cliffs of love on our Algarve.” May he rest in peace, and always remember the love of his family.
A memorial service for local friends and family will be held at the Avant in Reston Town Center, 12025 Town Sq Street, details to come shortly.