Robert A. Ward '57, dean of students at Amherst from 1968 to 1973, died of cancer November 20 at his home in Kent, Conn. He was 52.
Ward was a favorite with students not only in his years as an Amherst undergraduate and, later, as dean, but also throughout a career dedicated to education: as a teacher at the Loomis School (1960-65) before returning to his alma mater as an assistant dean, and -- following his return to Amherst -- as headmaster of Williston Academy in Easthampton, Mass. (1972-79).
When Ward first joined the dean's office in 1966, he told a student audience in Johnson Chapel that he wished to "disabuse you of any expectation that the new dean is a cool swinger; for I have never swung, and believe it more important to be warm rather than cool.” Later he recalled that during the tense, antiwar years when he was dean, "deans were never certain if they could leave their offices by the door or by the window." Throughout the period, Dean Ward maintained his promised warmth, and laced it always with humor. He was an inveterate rhymester, who responded in verse when a student complained, that previous tenants of his room kept dogs who had ruined the carpet (“I vow to you that by December." Ward assured him, "No trace of dog will you remember").
As an undergraduate, Ward had known Robert Frost, whose poetry inspired him - if not his doggerel - all his life. For several years after stepping down as headmaster at Williston, Ward developed, and delivered around the country, a lecture presentation called "Robert Frost - An Appreciation."
By then he had returned to live with his parents in his home town of Kent. He entered politics there in 1981, and was overwhelmingly elected first selectman. His leadership of the town was so effective that when he announced for a second term two years later, he was endorsed by the Republicans as well as by his own Democratic Party.
Ward was born in Flushing, N.Y., a son of Alexander and Margaret (Appleby) Ward. In 1946 he moved with his family to Kent, where he graduated from the Kent School for Boys in 1953. After his graduation with honors from Amherst in 1957, he served in the 4th Armored Division of the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1959. He then joined the faculty of the Loomis School in Windsor, Conn., where he taught English and was a director of college guidance. He received a masters degree in education from Harvard in 1966 and served briefly in the admissions offices both there and at Amherst before joining the office of the dean of students.
He was a trustee of the Kent School, a communicant of Sacred Heart Church, president of the Lions Club, and an honorary member of the Kent Volunteer Fire Department. Ward also was a member of the New England Headmasters Association, which he was instrumental in forming.
A bachelor, Ward is survived by his parents in Kent, and several aunts and uncles. A concelebrated Mass was held in Sacred Heart Church on November 24, and he was buried in Good Hill Cemetery, Kent.