In Memoriam: Joan Ward

Black-and-white photo of Joan Ward
(Photo courtesy of Nancy Cowie)
Head shot of Joan Ward
Joan Ward in 1969. (Photo courtesy of UCSC Special Collections)

Joan Ward, who was hired in 1966 as the first public information officer at UC Santa Cruz, died on Oct. 19, at the age of 90.

Ward promoted the campus tirelessly until her retirement in 1992. Following her departure, she continued her solo adventures through the western United States and Canada in her signature pumpkin-colored Vanagon camper van.

"Joan was smart, conscientious, just the right amount of quirky, devoted, and completely reliable," recalled Jim Burns, former director of the Public Information Office and a longtime colleague of Ward's. "She wrote expertly about everything from astronomy to the History of Consciousness. It's not an overstatement to say Joan had an encyclopedic knowledge of UCSC's first quarter century, and the campus missed that—and her—greatly upon her retirement."

Ward, who sported large, round, black-framed glasses for decades, was a well-known figure on campus. For years after her retirement, she returned every December to the Public Information Office, then located in the Carriage House, to host a warm, boisterous holiday celebration for her former colleagues. The sight of Ward rolling up in her Vanagon would bring cheers from the staff.

"She seemed immortal," said former art director Jim MacKenzie, another early colleague of Ward's. "What I always will remember, and cherish, was the strong sense of camaraderie we all felt. Joan was no small part of that camaraderie. She got it, and soldiered on, because she believed in higher education and research in the public interest." 

A native of San Mateo, Ward graduated from Stanford University with a degree in journalism. She spent two years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, where she became fluent in Spanish. Decades before microfinance became trendy, she established a small business where women in Ecuador could sell hand-woven wool sweaters in the United States.

Ward enjoyed opera, symphony, ballet, and travel through Europe, as well as spending time with her family, including her beloved nieces, her nephew, and their children, many of whom live in Northern California.

Family and friends are invited to attend a celebration of her life on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019 at 1 p.m. at the Skylawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park on Highway 92 at Skyline Blvd. in San Mateo, California.

Her family prepared this obituary.