In memoriam: Thomas Ward, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry
March 5, 2020
Ward was born on July 10, 1941, in Angier, North Carolina. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from North Carolina State University in 1963 and master’s and doctoral degrees in polymer chemistry from Princeton University in 1966. His first position was as a post-doctoral researcher at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland. He then worked at the University of Essex in Colchester in England. In 1968, Ward joined Virginia Tech, where he remained until his retirement in 2006.
At Virginia Tech, Ward was named the Adhesive and Sealant Council Professor of Chemistry in the College of Science by the Board of Visitors. During his career, he made many contributions to the understanding of complex multiple phase systems and their strength of attachment to one another, and wrote 159 publications, four books, and received one patent.
“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have come to Virginia Tech for a graduate degree in polymer science under the guidance of Dr. Tom Ward,” said Ann Norris, the program manager for Virginia Tech’s Macromolecules Innovation Institute. Norris was part of Ward’s research group during her time at Virginia Tech as a doctoral student studying polymers in a science and engineering interdisciplinary program from 1982 to 1987. “His passion for teaching and research was only exceeded by the support and guidance he gave to his students. He was a great mentor with immense compassion and wisdom and will be sorely missed.”
Joseph DeSimone, who earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Virginia Tech before becoming executive chairman and co-founder of Carbon, posted on Twitter: “Tom was THE best teacher I’ve ever known.”
He also credited Ward as part of a team at Virginia Tech that “established a GREAT polymer program that educated many students [and] industrial scientists” through the American Chemical Society’s polymer chemistry short courses, held on campus and at various industrial companies. Ward taught the short courses from 1976 until 2013.
Among Ward’s honors and awards were being named a Thomas C. Patrick Fellow in The Adhesion Society in 2006; winning the Paul J. Flory Polymer Education Award from the American Chemical Society in 2004; and receiving a Virginia Tech’s William E. Wine Award for Teaching Excellence in 1976.
In October 2018, Virginia Tech alumni, colleagues, and friends in conjunction with the St. Louis Community Foundation established the Dr. Thomas C. Ward Graduate Fellowship in Chemistry. The competitive fellowship is awarded to graduate students pursing degrees specific to physical polymer chemistry or physical chemistry. The inaugural recipient was Abby Bratton. She has said of meeting Ward, “He gave me encouragement to work hard in my graduate career and try to make the most out of every day and opportunity.”
According to his obituary, Ward was preceded in death by his father, Thomas Marsh Ward; his mother, Geraline Fuquay Young Ward; his sister-in-law, Susan Hines Ward; his son-in-law, Stuart Martin Jewell; and his granddaughter, Claudia Drake Jewell. He is survived by his stepmother, Mary Thompson Ward; his wife, Randall Armstrong Ward; his daughters, Janice Ward Jewell, Cynthia Ward Hackney, and Helen McLeod Ward; and stepsons, Michael Kelly Crump and Patrick Walton Crump; his brother, Ronald Young Ward; his sister, Mary Martha Ward; a stepbrother, Neal Franklin Fowler; and granddaughters, Olivia Grace Jewell, Lily Sconyers and Julia Sconyers, and Maxine Crump.
Funeral services will be held 10 a.m. March 18 at the Blacksburg Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The family will receive guests after the service until 1:15 p.m. in the church’s gathering room. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the charity of your choice. McCoy Funeral Home of Blacksburg is serving the family.