Michael Ward is an outstanding Vanderbilt Advisor and our Director of Sales. Mike joined Vanderbilt in 2015 and has been an advocate for our firm’s values, passion, and culture ever since. On July 19th, Mike shared a heartfelt post about his late father on Linkedin. We think this post is a testament to Mike’s character and exemplifies how he is a cultural fit to our Vanderbilt core values of gratitude, respect, innovative, teamwork, and trustworthiness.
Six years ago today, my Father, my Coach, my Best Friend, Bernie Ward passed away. Upon waking up this morning and preparing for my daily beach run, I felt an unusual heaviness in my body that made me want to return to the comfort of my bed. Being fully aware that July 19 was the catalyst for my lethargic state of mind and body, I decided that I was going to honor a man who impacted so many young man and woman with his positive attitude, unbridled enthusiasm and commitment to persevere thru anything the world thru his way.
Bernie Ward was born November 4th, 1928. Coming from very humble beginnings, Bernie was determined to better his lot in life by excelling in athletics. He was a 3 sport athlete at St. Ann’s (currently known as Archbishop Molloy) excelling in Basketball where he was All-City and accepted a Basketball Scholarship to St. Johns. As lady luck would have it, the end of WWII included the return of many veterans who had still had college eligibility left. St. Johns said they would honor his scholarship but his playing time would be questionable given the incredible amount of talent returning from overseas so after a successful freshman basketball season, the writing was on the wall.
Bernie enrolled in the police academy in 1955 and began a career spanning 25 years as a Police Officer that ended with Bernie on the waiting list to be a Captain. My fathers passion, however, lay in coaching and teaching beginning his second career as a teacher and coach at my alma mater, Maria Regina, in Uniondale, New York. Possessing an accounting degree that he earned at night while being a Police Officer, my Dad had no formalized training in teaching. His spirited daily approach to the profession more than compensated for his lack of formal training. Bernie took on many roles at Maria Regina,, transitioning to Bishop Kellenberg where he taught accounting, health( would have loved to sit in on one of those classes ; still waiting for my birds and the bees speech) and, ultimately, history, his favorite. My dad also coached freshman Football, freshman and varsity Basketball, and was the athletic director for several years.
Bernies passion, however, was Baseball. Having coached my summer travel teams during high school, our teams routinely participated in national tournaments playing against the best players in the country. Gene Larkin (Twins) and John Morris(Cardinals) were amongst the many talented players that were on those teams. Bernie coached Baseball for 27 years at MR and Bishop Kellenberg developing a tremendously successful program that sent a significant amount of students play at the collegiate level. He finally got his title in 2001 against Chaminade, a very proud moment for a man who didn’t like the taste of losing.
Still teaching at the age of 82, Father Eichner was kind enough to allow Bernie to teach his own far-reaching curriculum to the top 30 Kellenberg seniors. I never saw him happier. Unfortunately, having never been a smoker and possessing a hard-nosed approach to dealing with illness i. e. ignore it, my father didn’t realize he had contracted Lung Cancer. It didn’t take long and was very hard to watch my hero, this warrior succumb to this debilitating disease. He died surrounded by his family.
Bernie left behind 7 children, an amazing wife, 16 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter. He also left behind thousands of students and athletes who will never forget his zest for life, his competitive spirit and his belief that tomorrow was going to be better. In fact, he couldn’t wait for it. The Bernie Ward Commitment award is given to the player on every team that exhibits the highest level of commitment and enthusiasm to that team. I am honored to have been allowed to present the award at several different awards dinners. It is a night that i truly enjoy as it embraces the legacy of my Dad. I am hopeful that i can be as impactful as my dad was in my remaining years .
As i finish up my beach run, i feel a wave of gratitude sweep over my body. It is the realization this Iconic figure is someone that i referred to as “Dad’. I am thankful that no matter what situation i got myself involved in, my father always reacted calmly and had my back. That’s what great fathers and great leaders do. Thanks Pop…Miss you…RIP.