John Charles Ward

We were roommates freshman year in Vanderbilt, and how vivid such first meetings remain:  He was straight out of a Catholic boys school in Albany, pie-eyed and earnest, washed behind the ears and pretty green, even for a rookie.  His bearing was kind & honest, no airs, and speaking with him made you feel heard.  He was obviously paying attention… among stories of folks changing that first year, maybe no one was more opened and transformed than John, maybe more than we knew. 

At the beginning of sophomore year, he showed up at Yale briefly, just to tell us he was not coming back:  He was going to the West Coast, stepping off the ordained track to see some new things, and find his own feet.  I was astonished and amused that HE was doing this, among all the effects of those volatile times upon us.  I wished John the best, and gave him a little map book with a poem inscribed: 

                California, California, Priestess of the West –

                her myth allures like sound of siren song.

                Ulyssan closely, your ear bent to your soul,

                your soul to the wind, and the wind to the golden western sun.

        `       Know thyself, O Icarus. 

He accepted this graciously, but strangely in the human hubbub that afternoon, he forgot the little folio on the table, along with my words of hope and warning.  That was the last I saw of him.  It was only a few years later, when we were just out of school, that news came of his passing — vaguely on some kind of accident in the Bay Area, as I recall — but I was most struck by what it didn’t say. 

John Ward was one of the first of our Class to go… I always wondered about where he went with that feeling, and the safe sureties and innocence he left so resolutely behind.

            Scott Addison

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