“He was one of those guys that you just kind of click with,” says Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, who first met Ward in 1977 when Edwards was a rookie in the fire department. “He was always in a good mood. He had a steady modus operandi about him, and he knew the direction he wanted to go.”
John Patrick Ward Sr. was born March 17, 1932, in Bloomington. His father worked in state government, so the family moved to Springfield, where Ward graduated from Cathedral Boys High School in 1950. After attending Springfield Junior College, he joined the Army in 1952 and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he became fire chief and assistant fire marshal of the base. He then left the Army and enrolled in the fire science program at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University. After graduation, Ward worked for Akron Brass, an Ohio-based company that makes fire fighting equipment, then formed his own company. Following the December 1958 fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels elementary school in which 95 people perished, the Illinois Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities hired Ward as Fire State Engineer to oversee fire safety at four state universities.
It was around that time that Ward’s impact on Springfield really began. While still working for the Board of Governors and living back in Springfield, Ward created the Springfield Rescue Squad. He was chief of the squad until his election as Commissioner of Public Health and Safety in 1975. At that time, Springfield was run under a city commission government in which voters elected three commissioners and a mayor, each of whom handled a different aspect of city government. Ward was the longest-serving public safety commissioner in the city’s history, serving four terms. His job was eliminated in 1987, when the city switched to a mayor-council form of government, and Ward stayed on as public safety director until 1991.
“It was in his blood; he loved it, and he loved Springfield,” says Ward’s wife, Elizabeth Ward. The pair met in 1962 through a mutual friend who worked with Pat Ward on the fire department’s rescue squad, and they were married after dating for only four months. Elizabeth Ward remembers her husband as “caring, loving and honest beyond belief,” adding that he greatly missed Springfield when they moved to Shiloh, Mo., to be near their children and grandchildren. Pat and Elizabeth Ward have two daughters, Michelle Wuller of Belleville and Colleen Carruthers of Troy, two sons, John Patrick Ward Jr. and Robert Michael Ward, both of Belleville, and six grandchildren.
Elizabeth Ward says her husband’s love of the fire department may have begun as a child, when his father would take him to watch firefighters extinguish blazes around town.
“That love was always there,” she says, adding that he was also good at making the government work. However, she adds, no task was ever below him.
“If it had to be done, and no one else was going to do it, he did it,” she says. “There were times I thought he was nuts.”
Ward’s biggest disappointment was when the city abandoned the commission style of government, she recalls.
“He said that the citizens were not going to get a fair shake,” she says. “He made the comment to me that government was going to cost more money, because if one alderman got something, the others would want it, too.”
Ald. Edwards recalls seeing Ward at nearly every fire call during his 16 years of service, observing the firefighters’ performance and thinking of ways to make the department better. Edwards says Ward pushed to make firefighter training mandatory, modernize equipment and integrate emergency medical services with the fire department, among other changes. The department improved so much under Ward’s direction, Edwards says, that it earned a Class 1 designation from the Insurance Services Office (ISO) in 1988 – at that time one of only seven departments nationwide to do so.
Greg Surbeck, now assistant fire chief of the Springfield Fire Department, met Ward while Surbeck was working at an ambulance service during the early 1980s, recalling Ward’s dedication to the quality of public safety in Springfield.
“He’s really the one responsible for moving the fire department out of the dark ages and into the 21st century,” Surbeck says. “He did a lot of good for the city, and we’re still reaping the benefits of his programs.”
Pat Ward died Oct. 17 in Belleville.
“He loved his children and he loved the fire service,” Elizabeth Ward says. “His family loves him very much and misses him.”