Benjamin F. Ward Arts Endowment

Dr. Benjamin Ward, professor of philosophy, Arabic, and German Studies, passed December 14, 2013.  He had been battling cancer for the previous four years.


Raised in Montgomery, Alabama, Ward grew up during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  From 1973-1980, he taught philosophy and served as Dean of Berkeley College at Yale University, his alma mater.  He departed New Haven for Durham in the fall of 1980, arriving on Duke’s campus as an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Resident Life, a position through which he spearheaded the faculty-in-residence program.  In all thirty-four of his years at Duke, he lived on campus, initially in Trent Residence Hall and later in Edens.

Ward is fondly remembered for his impact with students.  He was a faculty mentor to several varsity athletic teams including Track & Field, Cross Country, Men’s Soccer, Baseball, and Wrestling.  Until the realignment of residential groups in 2012, he served as the faculty-in-residence for the Arts Theme House since the group’s founding.  This past year, he played an instrumental role in helping the Black Men’s Union become a recognized student group.

When Ward arrived at Duke in 1980, a group of students asked him to be the faculty advisor to their year-old a cappella group, the Pitchforks.  By the end of 1981, he had become a full-fledged member of the group, leading them as Music Director, a position he held for four years before handing down the pitch pipe to undergraduates.  Every year since, Ward sang with the group, forging lasting friendships with many of its 200 alumni.  The Pitchforks’ Gothic Christmas Concert, held annually before winter exams in the Gothic Reading Room, has become a Duke tradition, and for more than thirty years Ward directed the performance.

Music was an important part of Benjamin Ward’s life.  As he frequently said, it was “the one thing I could not live without.”  A concert pianist, he was invited throughout his life to perform classical concerts around the world.  His living room contained two grand pianos and a massive collection of CDs.  The great classical composers were his idols, and he spoke of them like dear friends.  Very often students would spend an evening in Ward’s apartment, talking for hours on end about music and philosophy and, if they were lucky, listening to him play the piano.


Ward was a community man, serving on the board of visitors for the Governor’s School of North Carolina and the North Carolina School for the Arts, both in Winston-Salem.  He was a diehard fan of the Durham Bulls, attending the majority of Bulls’ games over the past fifteen years.  He shared friendships with many of the ballpark staff members and every year would “adopt” a new Bulls’ player, taking the young man under his wing and offering both friendship and mentorship.  His adoptees include Randy Winn, Carl Crawford, Desmond Jennings, and most recently star prospect Tim Beckham.

But perhaps most dear to Ward was his volunteer work in the Durham community.  In 1997, Duke honored him with its Humanitarian Service Award for his work with the House of Positive Endings.  He received the Duke Employee Community Service Award in 2008 for his dedicated service to Urban Ministries of Durham, a shelter where he spent about ten hours every week cooking meals for the homeless.

Benjamin Ward leaves behind a vibrant legacy marked by human connection.  A true intellectual, he wore his curiosity on his sleeve.  The point of learning is not about arriving at the right answers, he would often tell his students; it is about asking the right questions.  He treated everyone with kindness and, even when his health began to erode, always found a way to light up a room.  He is sorely missed but held dearly in memory by all those he touched.

Ward was interred at a simple service in Maplewood Cemetery, just south of Duke’s West Campus, on December 16, 2013.  The Duke community celebrated his life with a Service of Remembrance on Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 3 pm in the Duke Chapel, followed by a Reception of Remembrance at Penn Pavilion.  Both events were on Duke’s West Campus and open to the public. Programs can be viewed / downloaded here.

Tributes, Memories, and Stories

Below, please enjoy submissions from Ben's students, friends, family, and the communities he impacted.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2017

One of my favorite memories of Ben occurred in a music class he was teaching, which I audited in my senior year at Duke. We already knew each other from our time singing together in the Pitchforks. On the first day, he posed this question to the class: "What makes music different from other art forms?" When no one else answered, I tentatively raised my hand and said, "emotion?" Ben, who was clearly not expecting anyone to offer the correct answer, got very excited and said, "Exactly!! Motion!!" 

Well, everyone else in the class had heard my response correctly, and I started getting some very askance looks from my new classmates. So I again tentatively raised my hand, and said "Ben, I actually said 'emotion.'" Upon learning that the first answer in his class had actually been singularly boneheaded rather than enlightened, Ben's disappointment was palpable. But being the kind soul that he always was, he did not embarrass me in front of the class, and he moved on. 

Some years later, I was back at Duke in law school. I went by to see Ben, and apologized not only for the answer to that question, but also for not having given my all in his class some years earlier (I was taking it pass/fail). Ben smiled at me very kindly, and said, "Doug, I think the statute of limitations has run on all that." 

Ben was a kind and gentle soul, one who made my college experience better. I have continued singing over the years, and still marvel at the musicianship of his vocal arrangements. I've encountered none that surpass them. He was a gift for me, the Pitchforks, and Duke, and I remain grateful to him. 

Doug Chalmers

MAY 16, 2017
When I arrived at Yale to enter my graduate work at Yale Divinity School, I had only recently graduated from the University of Iowa as a Vocal Performance major. Upon arriving in New Haven I immediately auditioned for the Battell Chapel Choir, the church that William Sloane Coffin preached at every other Sunday. This was the fall of 1970. At my first rehearsal with the choir I saw Ben Ward sitting in the tenor section, singing and reading philosophy during breaks and practicing his piano on his leg. I was immediately drawn to him and we became close friends during our my three years at Yale. At the time he was working on his Doctoral Dissertation which was a very detailed examination of the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. We were the same age but he was 2 years advanced in his education having finished high school in 2 years. He was working as a Freshman dorm advisor in a tiny room on the top floor of the Freshman campus at Yale. I visited his room many times, read part of his thesis, and found his routine to be quite remarkable. He would read on his subject every day, but from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. he would write without stopping, in long hand. Astounding! His writing was quite stunning, grammatically very exact. I learned that his father had been an educator and expected his children to be able to diagram the sentences in the Montgomery newspaper, a task he was required to do regularly. He was fluent in French at that time, and later, after leaving Yale for Duke, he told me that he had learned Arabic and had begun teaching a class in Arabic at Duke. It appeared that his contract at Duke was somewhat open ended. He worked in the Residence Hall system and taught whatever he felt moved to teach, it appears. 

He and I had a strong passion for classical music and we had many listening sessions at his place and at mine. He told me that he owned over 5000 LP records and that his parents had built a room onto their home to house his record collection and his grand piano. While at Yale, he continued to expand his collection and we made numerous trips to New York to visit his favorite record stores. I would buy one or two on my limited budget, but he would come home with arm loads of records. He even allowed me to drive his prized Volkswagen station wagon. Or was it a Volvo? He prided himself in having multiple recordings of individual symphonies, piano pieces, chamber works, vocal music, etc. On one of our excursions he purchased the complete songs of Schubert sung by Dietrich Fisher Dieskau, which made me very envious. My music life was made more interesting by Ben who recommended that I become an usher at the concerts on campus so I could get in free, which he also did. Soon I became the Head Usher for all the of the concerts at Yale and attended over 150 concerts in 2 years, being paid to attend and organize the ushers, of which he continued to be one.

We spent Thanksgiving meals together along with his friend from Queens, Liz Ermisch, and my friends and my wife. I attended his piano concerts, one of which was his performance of the entire Beethoven Diabelli Variations. I recall that he had been out of town for a week or two and had not had time to practice before the concert, so he played the repeats in each variation, using the first time through as a rehearsal for the second time through. That one was at Stiles College, I believe. He also played a full recital of French Impressionist Music which included the Ravel Gaspar de la Nuit, which he played beautifully. At Davenport College he played a recital which included the Bach Goldberg Variations, and he worked hard to bring Charles Rosen to Davenport College for a recital. Ben was serving as Dean of Davenport College at the time. He purchased a beautiful Baldwin piano while living there and later bought a Bosendorfer piano which he cherished. 

We collaborated together during my final year at the Divinity School by performing the Brahms Vier Ernste Gesange, or the 4 Serious Songs, during a chapel service. We also worked on the Britten Holy Sonnets of John Donne. After I graduated I returned to New Haven once and stayed with him in Jonathon Edwards College for a few days, but I did not return to see him in Durham. However, when we heard that he had contracted stomach cancer in 1977, my wife and I decided to give our new son Ben's name for his middle name, and he came and visited us in Iowa. I have a picture of him holding Richard BENJAMIN (as he always spelled it when he wrote to me) and he visited one more time and watched Richard BENJAMIN taking his swimming lesson when he was 7 or 8. We had drifted apart but I would occasionally call and visit with him on the phone. He was a very busy man. Driven, it seemed to me. He was a brilliant man at a time when the world needed brilliant Black scholars and everyone wanted him to serve on one committee or another. He traveled all around the country serving on scholarship committees and playing concerts.

I have only recently heard about his death. The cancer that flared up in the 1970's was in remission but never was completely gone. I assume that it finally got the best of him. It is sad to lose one so talented and so giving at so young an age. I will never forget him and the great time we had from 1970-73.

To see him and his lectures on Art and the Philosophy of Art, take a look at the old Duke Great Teacher video series. He plays the piano and lectures on art. It is good to see him. I have pirated those lecturers and it means more now than ever to watch them.

James Tener
Iowa State University
Dept. of Music
Ames, Iowa
May, 2017

APRIL 07, 2015

There are so many reasons to celebrate Duke tonight. But, if you're looking for one more, I hope you'll join me in remembering Ben. The recent TEDxDuke talk I gave started and ended with Ben. And, for me, he's a big part of who I am. The link is now available (below).

Tonight, so many people hate on Duke. But, you can never hate on Ben. 


On Being Helpful:

Mark '03

MAY 12, 2014

Benjamin F. Ward Jr., a Duke University philosophy professor and faculty-in-residence leader who was a dedicated volunteer at Urban Ministries of Durham across two decades, made the largest gift the nonprofit has received from an individual.

Ward died in December at the age of 65, according to Duke Today. He made a $100,000 bequest to the nonprofit Urban Ministries, which runs a shelter, kitchen and food and supply pantry for the homeless.

The gift is expected to be made later this year. Patrice Nelson, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the gift will be used to start an endowment to generate an ongoing income stream for the nonprofit.

“As opposed to us just kind of absorbing it in to next year’s operating expense, or buying one big thing right now, we want to set it up in a way so that for 20 more years, Urban Ministries will benefit from the gift of Ben Ward,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she started as the nonprofit’s executive director in 2009, after Ward became ill. Although she said she didn’t know him well, she did know of his legacy. He volunteered for 20 years averaging about 10 hours per week at the nonprofit. That’s the equivalent of a full-time employee working five years, she said.

According to information from the nonprofit, Ward would help cook dinner and would often play piano while people ate. One night, he enlisted some of his Duke colleagues to dress the tables and serve as waiters at a salmon dinner – his favorite.

As the story goes, Nelson said Ward discovered Urban Ministries after riding his bike by several times. She said she believes he was struck by how many men there were that he felt were like him in some ways, but who also needed a helping hand.

“As he (rode) past Urban Ministries back and forth, he would wonder what was going on, and wonder why there were so many men who seemed to be hanging around,” Nelson said. “One day, he came inside to see what he could do to help them out.”

Lloyd Schmeidler, the former executive director of Urban Ministries from 2002 to 2008, said Ward was one of the most faithful volunteers he encountered. He also said that as a fan of the Durham Bulls baseball team, he would “make sure things were all in order when the Bulls were in town during the summers” so he could catch the games.

“He had a real care and compassion and love for the people that were being served,” he said. “It brought him great joy in my experience.”

Ward was an early leader of Duke’s faculty-in-residence program, according to an article in Duke Today. He had held a similar position at Yale, where he had received his doctorate.

At Duke when he arrived in 1980, he was awarded a position in the philosophy department. He eventually held the position of adjunct associate professor of philosophy and associate dean for faculty programs, according to a faculty database at

William Griffith, vice president for student affairs emeritus at Duke, said in remarks at Ward’s remembrance service that in addition to being a “challenging, excellent teacher,” he was also a leader in school’s a cappella group the Pitchforks, and as a skilled pianist, he played with the Ciompi Quartet on a number of occasions. According to Duke Today, he played the organ at the 1968 memorial service for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

“He was an intellect, concert pianist, athlete … and a humanitarian,” Griffith said, according to a recording of his remarks at Ward’s remembrance reception at

He had a multi-faceted personality, said Dr. Robert Rosenstein, an optometrist who became a good friend of Ward’s due to an interest classical music. Rosenstein said Ward “worked with people to make them better.”

“He did so much to mentor young people,” he said. “He mentored kids that needed help – not just kids at Duke – (but people who) needed someone to help steer and fine-tune what (they were) doing,” he said. “He was one of those people who got dirt under his fingernails.”

Article link:

APRIL 29, 2014

At their Founder's Dinner April 27, 2014, Urban Ministries of Durham, the shelter in downtown Durham that Ben supported tirelessly for 20 years, announced that Ben has bequeathed $100,000 to them from his estate.  This is the largest single gift they have received in their 30 year history and forms the foundation of a new fundraising effort by Urban Ministries as they seek to build upon the Benjamin Ward Endowment.  Last year, Urban Ministries was able to assist 245 individuals and families in the transition from homelessness to the stability of a home and employment in addition to serving over 600,000 meals to the homeless in Durham.


Robert and Debbie Rosenstein, Carol and I are pictured with the Director of Urban Ministries, Patrice Nelson, immediately following the announcement of Ben's gift.  

-Kurt Uphoff

MARCH 09, 2014

Ben challenged every student in his philosophy class to question long-held assumptions and a make a change. I remember a couple of nuggets of wisdom he shared: 

- If the Duke admissions office could be disbanded and applications chosen at random, Duke's freshman class would not likely be noticeably different for it. 

- There is nothing particularly admirable in and of itself about being a professional, for professionalism is merely excellence at a skill, not a sign of moral integrity. A skill can be directed toward good or toward ill. Ben deeply believed that a true education was one that improved a person on a deep, moral level. 

- It was sometime around then, Fall 1992, that Ben announced he had begun teaching himself Arabic with a few hours of study each morning. Before long he was teaching it to Duke students. 

Identified as almost supernaturally brilliant, Ben left Montgomery, Alabama, at a very young age to be educated in Berkeley. So he knew what it was like to be a long way from home and to feel a bit out of place. He took that experience, I believe, and decided to make himself in adulthood an available friend and family member to every student he encountered. I will always think of Ben as someone sent to remind us that we are valued, we have gifts, and we belong. He treated each of us like prodigies. Isn't that how we should treat every person we meet in this world? Thank you, Ben, for leading through example.

-Eric Larson

JANUARY 29, 2014

By Joseph Landau | January 28, 2014

On Dec. 14, 2013, Duke University lost one of the greatest, most inspirational teachers it has ever known. After a four-year struggle with colon cancer, Benjamin F. Ward passed away at the young age of 65.

Many of us knew and loved Ben—a professor and dean who insisted that we not call him “Professor” or “Dean”—during our years at Duke. To this day, I remember vividly our weekly conversations—many lasted into the evening—to discuss my senior thesis. I served with Ben on a presidential task force that made many recommendations to the University administration, including one, of which Ben deservedly took great pride, that all first-year students be relocated to East Campus. I once accompanied Ben to Renaissance Weekend in Hilton Head, S.C., where Ben regaled hundreds of participants of the time he performed with the great composer Rostropovich. Most importantly, I remember countless conversations with Ben and his tremendous capacity for empathy. To young Duke students coming of age, Ben often provided a source of support that could not have come from anywhere else.

After I graduated from Duke in 1995, Ben continued to offer his wise and helpful advice, which deeply influenced my decision to pursue law and, later, the teaching of law. If not for Ben’s sage input, my professional and academic career would likely have turned out quite differently. Ben taught me many things, but what I remember most from my time with him was how he approached life. Ben wanted all of us to inhabit a world in which each of us would be the master of his own destiny. Ben exhorted us to buck convention and to make our own decisions based on intellects and instincts that were truly ours—and ours alone.

Ben taught me how to teach, and he taught me—he taught all of us—how to live a life worth living. In the class he devoted to existentialism and the teachings of Sartre, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Heidegger, Ben’s paramount interest wasn’t that we understand a particular philosophical tradition but, rather, that we seriously attempt to understand our lives and our respective relationships to the world. Ben addressed his inquiries to our habits of mind, instilling the importance of transcending the common routines and well-worn tracks many of us were following.

How did Ben teach us these things? One answer, perhaps, is found in Plato’s description of the teacher in the Theaetetus. There, Plato writes that, as students, we are pregnant with knowledge and that the teacher is a midwife who delivers that knowledge out of us. I think this image helps us understand Ben, for he lived and embodied this role every day. Ben taught us that the answers to life’s hardest questions were already inside us. In this way, Ben was the most benevolent guide and teacher one could ask for.

To those full of anxiety about the future, we learned through our dialogue with Ben that we could little foresee what our respective paths would be. But this was good news—not bad—because Ben illuminated the possibility of innumerable paths and, in the process, helped us discover who we might become.

Ben knew and admitted that this exploration—this search to live a true and genuine life—required heavy intellectual lifting and moral inquiry. No sentimentalist, Ben also told us that engaging in this inquiry was a luxury. As students, we had a privileged opportunity to inform ourselves about our world, engage it and find people who inspired us. But, ultimately, we would have to become our own sources of inspiration—so that we, in turn, could inspire others. This was a luxury, but—at the risk of reading too much into Ben’s teaching—it was also a responsibility. In the words of Sartre, we were “condemned to be free.” We were, in the end, “nothing other than [our] own project[s],” and we existed only to the extent that we performed those projects.

Ben imparted all of this without moral judgment or criticism of anyone’s choices. He shared his knowledge easily, without condescension, with encouragement, with authority, with gentleness and with wisdom.

Ben was also deeply private, in some respects unknown and unknowable—but he also made himself public, and what was manifest in all his dealings was his enormous generosity of spirit—not in an amorphous, general way, but tied to those things he cherished, valued and committed his life to: philosophy, music, aesthetics, sport, his commitment to engaging students in a lifelong love of learning and fostering the development not of a singular vision of what life should be, but rather helping launch young people to discover the life they could make that was theirs alone.

I have spent a good deal of time thinking about Ben since his recent death—what he stood for, what he meant to me and how much he shaped my experience as an undergraduate at Duke in the 1990s. While I mourn deeply the loss of this tremendous man, I feel comforted by my memories of him—many still so very vivid—and the strong belief that he would want me to do nothing more than pass on his teachings to my own students, to my friends and to loved ones.

Joseph Landau, Trinity ’95, is an associate professor of law at Fordham Law School in New York City. He was a biweekly columnist for The Chronicle during his senior year at Duke

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JANUARY 23, 2014


Even as an undergraduate, and one who was very young for his class, Ben stood out as a remarkable person. He was kind, thoughtful, gracious and clearly brilliant. He had a wonderful facility for French, too.

A stand-out memory for most of us in Ben's Paris class was the piano concert he played in Paris. When we left Paris, I fully expected to hear him play Carnegie Hall!
Our Paris group is having a reunion in October of this year, and we are all devastated that he will not be there. I am sending you a picture (from our shared reunion folder) of Ben playing the piano for us in the apartment of our program's director.

-Clifford van Voorhees

JANUARY 23, 2014

Ben was not only a mentor and a source of inspiration, but also a close friend.


I was always deeply impressed with the wide range of talents Ben commanded -- musically, linguistically, academically -- the list goes on. It was easy to take advice and look up to someone so gifted, and I was grateful (and proud) that he invested his time in me. Looking back and listening to others' similar experiences, I am humbled by the way Ben invested his gifts so tirelessly. The number of people he's mentored, helped, and inspired is truly remarkable.

On his way to leaving a substantive, serious life impact, however, Ben always brought a warm, passionate, and quirky sense of humor. In my experience with Ben -- making jokes as tenor-2's about the "barely-tones", continual good-natured teasing on any topic he could get his hands on (age, experience, basketball skills, where he thinks you're really from, singing mistakes, you name it), and then pretending to throttle those who *dared* to tease back -- he always kept me on my toes. He also kept track -- 10 years after my time at Duke, he continued to ask about my siblings by name, followed up on life events, and stayed present. In this way, I also count myself very lucky to be among the many who count Ben a close friend.
Ben, we will miss you.

- Jason Bhardwaj

JANUARY 20, 2014 


Residential Life Staff, c.1982

Front Row: Barbara Buschman, Richard Cox, Karen Steinhour, Frank McNutt

Back Row: Ben Ward, Ella Jean Shore, David Jamison-Drake, Chuck Van Sant


JANUARY 20, 2014

You were the greatest influence on my academic life. When I found out that you died I cried because I hoped you would always be here and I cannot even begin to comprehend what has happened. Thank you for everything you have done for me and I hope to live a life that will make you proud.

-Z S

JANUARY 20, 2014

 The passing of Professor Benjamin Ward is a great loss to all who ever met him, including Duke students, faculty, and staff. I was Housing Coordinator in Duke's Residential Life office when Ben arrived at Duke in 1980, and he & I worked together through to my retirement in 1993. I can remember the trouble he had with his piano when he arrived, as he was to move into a second-floor apartment in Trent Drive Residence Hall as Duke's first Faculty-in-Residence. Ben, as a member of our staff, was instrumental in the growth of that program throughout the 80's and beyond, affording our students the opportunity to develop closer relationships with faculty residing among them. Being such a special individual, Ben's relationships with students were undoubtedly the strongest. Appropriately, when one of the residence halls in Eden's Quad was developed as the "Arts Dorm", Ben moved in there. During the 80's & early 90's, I had the pleasure of attending many terrific musical programs there at Ben's invitation.

I graduated from Duke in 1946, took a job there and never left, and through all my years at Duke, Ben was undoubtedly one of my favorite people. He had a remarkable way of making everyone feel special. There is one cherished memory in particular that stands out. In 1986, at my 40th Class Reunion dinner, Ben and the Pitchforks performed, and much to my surprise, they dedicated a song to me.

Ben was always very helpful to all the staff in our Residential Life office, including the upperclassmen and graduate students who served as Residential Advisors in the residence halls. In our weekly staff meetings, he was always encouraging and supportive, and he was always quick to pitch in wherever he could. I always felt he was there for me whenever I needed him, no matter what problems or challenges might develop. We were a close-knit family in the Residential Life office, and Ben was a big reason for that. We need more Ben Ward's among us in the world. We were lucky to have him. He was, and always will be, a much beloved friend. I will miss him greatly.

-Barbara Buschman

JANUARY 20, 2014

There are a small number of experiences in my life that have left a deep and enduring mark on me & helped me be who I am. Singling with the Pitchforks was unquestionably one of those, and not the least for the many valuable “pointers” I learned from Ben – not by far just about music, but about principled living, honor/care/teaching of others, and of COURSE having fun in his own free & sometimes very goofy way that never undercut his sincerity & seriousness at the appropriate times. The stories of his antics on tours with the Pitchforks are too numerous to begin recounting!

Ben stood out as being unusually principled & disciplined … for example, choosing not to eat for ~ a month in order to not participate in a war he didn’t believe in, or foregoing the U.S. news broadcast media when he found coverage of an election too trivializing. His dedication to his students, and to the Pitchforks – over ~33 years! – was an inspiration – not to mention his incredible musical prodigy. Yet despite his impressive musical skill, I recall him being very patient in helping me (quite inexperienced at such a thing) try my hand at arranging a few songs for the ‘Forks.

I particularly remember one discussion with him (in a restaurant or bar @ Georgetown – I still remember!) about leadership, & how the group needed better/more of it at that point. That discussion has stayed with me for many years (more than my brief partial reading of Howard Gardner’s tome on the subject) both in my reflections on what I have & do not have in my own personal leadership skills, but especially for how it helped me recognize how very effective Ben was as a leader, & with such a unique and (as another Pitchfork has remarked) “thoughtful and soft-touch” style.

Once I moved away from Duke, I would catch up with Ben mainly through the occasional email or one of our periodic Pitchforks reunions. It was at one such recent reunion that I learned of his strengthened dedication to others not only in the academic setting, but to those in the Durham community less fortunate in their economic means or educational opportunities, and was all the more impressed with the breadth and depth of his humanity (ALMOST as great as his arm span!). Reading the tributes of others, I am further impressed to see what a strong influence he had on so many people as a mentor & colleague.

It is a privilege to have known Ben, and I still feel his impact in my life one way or the other on many days ... Having started my own family not so long ago, I now am in the habit of singing my boys to sleep each night, very often with one of Ben’s arrangements for the Pitchforks. It seems especially poignant now to see him still giving to those he never even met. I know I am only one of the very many by whom he will be greatly missed.

-Steve Stasheff

JANUARY 20, 2014

Favorite memory:  Serving meals at the Soup Kitchen

-Franklin McNutt

JANUARY 18, 2014

I remember the first time I met Ben… This unassuming man with a baseball cap came to my doorstep with his entourage of talented young men late one autumn afternoon in 2005, as the Pitchforks became a blessing, and a wonderful and cherished part of my life. Not only did my son benefit from being a part of this incredible fraternity of amazing young men, but our entire family was richer for being welcomed as a part of this incredible extended family as well... and the greatest gift of all was Ben.

For four wonderful years, Ben became a welcome fixture at my home whenever the group would travel on break, and I always looked forward to this ritual with great anticipation. Ben fell in love with our family dog, McKenzie, and you could always find the two of them huddled in a corner together. Ben absolutely adored her, and McKenzie was particularly honored to have been included in Ben's Pitchfork photo on the website....

While I always knew that Ben was special, this unassuming man with his multitude of talents and incredible heart and spirit, became a cherished part of our family, just as we became a part of his. To know Ben was to love him, and while he was here he brought joy and love to all of us, through so many layers that we are all still discovering. Yet the greatest gift that of all, was bringing each one of us together as an extended family, with strong and heartfelt ties that will always endure. Whether through his teaching, hiss music, or his selfless community service, Benjamin Ward was a master composer… of life.

Your legacy lives on Papa Grande… and I have no doubt that you are in Heaven teaching Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart your impeccable Pitchfork harmonies, while sipping on a large tumbler of ginger ale. You are dearly loved and dearly missed Ben... God bless you....well done! ❤

- Ivey Pate

JANUARY 18, 2014

Ben Ward in his apartment in Durham, NC. 

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JANUARY 18, 2014

My tribute to the memory of Dr. Ward is a humorous story. I met Dr. Ward through a friend at his beloved Durham Bulls baseball game. I was introduced to him as "Dr. Ward" and I made it a point to call him Dr. Ward whenever I saw him at a game. (He would tease me about the speed in which I would consume my popcorn.) My friend used to pick him up and take him to the Bulls games when he could no longer drive. Well I couldn't go to one of the games and my then girlfriend (now wife) was going and they were going to stop by and pick up Dr. Ward. She had never met him, but I told her that it was Dr. Ward and make sure you call him Dr. Ward. So when she got back home, I asked her, "How was the game and did she enjoy meeting Dr. Ward?" She said, "Oh Benjamin was a great guy and we had a lot of fun!!!" I was like okay Dr. Ward I see how it is..LOL. You will be greatly missed by my wife and I, your friends and the Durham Bulls!!! 

Respectfully submitted, Claude Piercy

JANUARY 18, 2014

Ben was my freshman counselor when I got to Yale in 1971. He lived across the hall on the fourth floor of Bingham Hall. He was finishing up his doctoral dissertation, “Aim, Decision, Adventure: An Inquiry into Whitehead’s Metaphysics of Creative Purpose.” We hit it off right from the start. I didn’t know that he would become a close family friend who would be at my mother’s 85th birthday party in the spring of 2012.

Ben and I quickly got on friendly terms that fall in 1971, perhaps partly due to our both having Southern background, or the fact that we were both ‘news junkies’ who enjoyed sharing reactions to news events, or because he enjoyed helping me with my French (and English) usage. Almost every evening, we would go together to the Yale Commons (main dining hall), sometimes with my roommates Adrian Sanchez and Douglas Daly or other Bingham residents. After supper Ben and I would go without fail to the Law School and watch the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Ben always followed politics and current events avidly. It was quite entertaining to see his reactions to various news items—he was sort of woefully indulgent towards much of the parade of folly that made up the news. His opinions were sometimes tinged with a bit of sadness over a tragic event, or a hint of scorn for some manipulative, lying politician, but he never expressed malice. He also took an almost childlike delight in unexpected and improbable events—for example, years later he was beside himself with amusement and glee over the exploit of the teenage German pilot Mathias Rust, who penetrated Soviet air defense systems and landed a Cessna next to Red Square in 1987. 

In the fall of 1971, Ben was practicing to give a concert of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. He didn't have a piano in his modest two-room dorm suite, so sometimes he would practice on an old beater of an upright piano in the unheated basement of Bingham, wearing his brown corduroy coat and leaning toward or away from the keyboard with an ecstatic expression. He was broadening my musical horizons as we would read the New York Times and listen to albums from his collection of Ravel, Debussy, Scriabin, and various composers, performed by Ruth Laredo, Glenn Gould, Rudolph Serkin, and others. 

Ben had a great sense of humor and it was fun to make him laugh. One of the freshman students in Bingham Hall was from Texas, and was studying French, of which Ben was a master. The student spoke French with a pronounced Texas accent. I would crack Ben up by saying with mock seriousness, “Well, I’d better get back to my room and finish reading La Canta-tree-ees Shooo-ooove,” exaggerating the Southern-accented pronunciation. Somewhere in storage I have a copy of the Harbrace College Handbook that Ben had used for years and which he gave me as a part of his never-ending, good-natured attempt to encourage me in the precise, grammatical usage of English. It has the same kind of forceful underlinings and finely scribbled marginalia that he made with a Bic pen in his copy of Whitehead’s Process and Reality while finishing his dissertation. 

At his parents’ house in Montgomery, Ben's mother would load him up with food to bring back to New Haven, to help him economize—the less he spent on food, the more he could spend on records. He would make tuna salad and we would eat it on Ritz crackers in his suite sometimes. We drove down to Sam Goody’s record shop in NYC one time and Ben loaded up on records.

Because my parents lived in Chapel Hill and Ben’s in Montgomery, we developed a routine. For the rest of the four years I was in college, we would drive his cars between New Haven and Chapel Hill at the beginning and end of each semester (first a red VW station wagon, later a green Volvo station wagon—a station wagon was needed in order to haul the bulk quantities of tuna, Ritz crackers and other provisions). He would break up the long drive from Connecticut to Alabama by overnighting at my parents' house in Chapel Hill. Ben loved to eat—slowly, somewhat meticulously, being especially fond of classic Southern cooking, such as turnip greens. My mother would always have them for him when he came to my parents' house, as he did dozens of times over the years. He played wonderfully on our baby grand piano to the delight of our family and other guests. Since my brother Bobby graduated from Yale three years after I did, Ben's New Haven-Chapel Hill drives continued another three years, and indeed as long as Ben was at Yale, and Ben's visits (and ours to his concerts and other events) continued after he came to Duke.

Some years later, I met Ben’s parents and spent the night at their home in Montgomery. Ben visited rural Chickasaw County, Miss. in January 1976, where I was living for a while on my grandparents’ farm. He drove over from Montgomery, stayed in their house, and became friends with them, as he had already become friends with my parents, brothers, and other grandmother, and with neighbors in Chapel Hill. It was a special treat for my grandparents to attend my brother Robert’s graduation at Yale in 1978 and stay at Ben's apartment at Berkeley with my parents and me. Ben was the ever-gracious host. 

After his visit to my grandparents’ farm, Ben and I drove to his parents’ house in Montgomery and spent the night. His mother served us pig ears; his father showed how he fertilized their backyard pecan tree with potash. Ben’s father was from the Gullah people of the southeastern coast, like Clarence Thomas’s (there the similarity ends). In the Wards’ modest neighborhood, there was a steel mill across the street. Day and night its machinery produced a metallic clanging and a heavy thumping, but the Wards were used to it. Virtually in the shadow of this mill, Ben had added a room onto the house to hold his enormous collection of recordings (LPs). 

Ben and I visited western N.C. together in 1976 on a memorable trip. He visited my parents and brother in Europe in 1982 when my dad was teaching in Belgium.

It was always possible to make Ben laugh by constructing (either deliberately or inadvertently) a sentence which started out ok but then rambled and ended with a preposition; or which garbled subject and pronoun agreement; or by alluding to some of the improbable characters who had peopled news events. We brought up names like Mathias Rust, Laszlo Toth, Fanne Fox, and other footnotes to history over the years, infallibly provoking laughter. Never did I bring up such a name, no matter how obscure or fleetingly notorious, which Ben could not instantly identify.

I saw Ben less often after I moved to Russia in 1994, although usually at least once a year, sometimes more. I went with him one night and helped him serve food in downtown Durham and was impressed at how enthusiastically he threw himself into it and how much it meant to him.

When Ben was a graduate student at Yale, the Vietnam war was under way, and Ben was draft-eligible. He was against the war and would not have served in Vietnam. His solution was to fast for a whole month (no solid food at all) prior to his Selective Service physical, thus failing it because he was so emaciated. (Ben was still very skinny when I first knew him.) After flunking his Selective Service physical, he went to the well-known restaurant George and Harry's, and tried to eat, but couldn't. No flight to Canada for Ben if the application of iron-willed self-discipline could solve his draft problem without his having to leave New Haven! Once he took me to George and Harry's, where we had a hearty meal and he pointed out where he had once sat and tried to break his fast. 

Ben was a friend of many well-connected and wealthy people, but his heart was in inspiring students with a love of learning, and in serving the homeless people in Durham, not in flattering the powerful. He was a frequent attendee at the Hilton Head, SC Renaissance Weekend gatherings that a wealthy former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James held at New Year's year after year. Knowing that my parents would really enjoy those events, Ben got them invited. There is a nice photo of my mom beaming with Hillary Clinton, and although Ben was not in the photo, he had in effect orchestrated it.

The last time I saw Ben was at my mother's 85th birthday party in Chapel Hill in April 2012. He was somewhat stooped and using a cane, but upbeat and effervescent. My former Yale professor Bill Ferris was there, and he and Ben and my brother Bobby and I enjoyed reminiscing about the old days at Yale.

Ben had a great influence on me and on many other people, and set a splendid example. We were all very fortunate to have known him.
-Patrick Murphy

JANUARY 18, 2014

The first day I met Ben, my young son Aaron climbed him like he was an oak tree. Ben did not seem to mind and he stayed for Thanksgiving dinner. We all shared many dinners together for many years. Ben is a beloved part of our family history.

-Deborah Rosenstein

JANUARY 18, 2014

Ben was a light-filled person who was always excited to do something new. He threw himself into learning Arabic with the enthusiasm of a child and when he had studied the language for two years he volunteered to help students. I once asked him and the Pitchforks to sing a Fairuz song at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association. Not only was he delighted to comply but he filled the singers with such joy that the Arabs in the audience were deeply moved. I am deeply saddened at his departure.

- miriam cooke

JANUARY 18, 2014

A quiet, articulate, and compassionate man, Ben Ward was a true intellectual whose pleasant smile and sincere manner always endeared him to those around him. I remember well, the time Ben invited the academic deans of Trinity College at Duke University to join him at the Shelter in downtown Durham to prepare and serve a meal to the residents. It was a memorable experience when deans Martina Bryant, Kay Singer, and I joined others to cut, chop, slide and serve a wonderful meal as supervised by Ben. He was an excellent cook who seemed to enjoy every minute of the two to three hours in the kitichen. It was a joy to work with this man who was an outstanding scholar, a talented musician and a man who respected all people. Rest in Peace, Benjamin F. Ward, Jr.

-Caroline L. Lattimore

JANUARY 17, 2014

I remember going through a period of personal struggles in my life ... and Ben always reached out with a word of encouragement .... this is a great loss.

-Noah Powell

JANUARY 08, 2014


1700 miles from the comfort and security of our Midwest Home, there was a man who reached out to our son his first year as a Track Athlete. Ben Ward inspired both us and our son with his keen interest in the success of all those whom he came to know. He was a philosopher of life, a charged motivator, a brilliant creator, a genius and beloved by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. Ben's joy of life was not to be tempered by his medical diagnosis and as he plunged forward, he showed us all to focus on what can be accomplished rather than what has been denied. Our final visit with this man of intrigue was to welcome him warmly to Wisconsin in October 2013 and allow him to share a Green Bay Packer football game; his first NFL game ever. He was not about to cave in to weakened mobility or any discomfort. What a privilege it was to host Ben, transform him into a Packer Cheesehead for an afternoon, and listen to all his personal stories over and over again at the dinner tables. Ben Ward, your Wisconsin family treasures your memory and graciously acknowledges the tremendously positive impact you have had on young lives, but more importantly that of our son. God Bless You. We will always hear your words of wisdom and beautiful music in our everyday lives.

- Nan and Steve Oswald




JANUARY 03, 2014

This picture was taken after a Morehouse College Glee Club Concert.  In the photo are, from left to right, Dr. Wendell P. Whalum, Head of Music and Conductor of the Morehouse Glee Club; Dr. Willis L. James, Head of Music and

Conductor of the Spelman College Glee Club; Ms. Hazel Harrison (1883-1969), Ben's piano teacher, next to Ben Ward, who was the Glee Club accompanist.  Ms. Harrison came up from Montgomery, Alabama to attend this Founders Day Concert in 1964.  There is a biography titled "Born to Play, The Life and Career of Hazel Harrison" by Jean E. Cazort and Constance Tibbs Hobson, Pub. by Greenwood Press (1983).  Ben greatly respected Ms. Harrison and she had high expectations for his talent.  One of his favorite quotes of hers was "Music will get you where nothing else will".

 -CS Brown 

JANUARY 03, 2014

A family loves at all times...
Ben, we will always love and miss you. 
Thanks for 65 years.

Willie, Sandra, Rosalyn, Nanette, Bernard, Erica, Evan, Elyas

DECEMBER 31, 2013

Throughout my college years, Ben Ward was a towering presence.  Playing chamber music with him (Brahms B Major Trio, Brahms F minor Quintet, Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time, Shostakovich Trio (these last two with Jonathan Levi, see above)) was like having composer, teacher, parent and best friend all in the same room.  His touch—he could pound and he could caress, always perfectly—was exquisite.  Although he was a Dean and we were students, there was no hierarchy, only friendship and love.  We went to him for everything—music advice, school advice, waivers of exam deadlines (called “Dean’s Excuses”), boyfriend-girlfriend advice.  When my brother could not attend my wedding, Ben was my best man, handing me the ring that started 30 years of a marriage still blessed by his presence.  Fiercely disciplined but gentle, a genius but tolerant, Ben Ward made one believe in miracles—because he was one.

-Scott Hempling

DECEMBER 25, 2013

Merry Christmas Ben. Your life was a gift to all of us.

-John Scurci

DECEMBER 24, 2013

Ben was so gifted and he distinguished himself in whatever he pursued. With all that, he was such a gentle and kind spirit. I never knew him to boast of himself or speak ill of anyone, even in those college days when both characteristics were the norm. Later, when he was at the University of Paris or at Yale, I was in the army in Vietnam. We corresponded and his letters were always eagerly received. Ben helped to keep me smiling, sometimes laughing, through many a storm. His detailed critiques of the various recitals he attended, and his sometimes-hilarious comments written down the margins of the program bulletin, are archives to be treasured by me forever. Rest in peace, Ben.

-Charles Samuel Brown

DECEMBER 24, 2013

Ben and I were mentors in the "Rites of Passage" program together for about 10 years. He was very special to all of us, especially to the boys. Among his many God given talents, the one that was most important to me was his humility. He was very humble, his spirit was such he gave of himself constantly to others. That is what we are here to do as the bible instructs us. Ben did just that.

-Doug Lyons

DECEMBER 22, 2013


I met Ben in about 1976 when we were both in New Haven, and he became a regular visitor to our home, where he loved to romp with the children (photo attached from 1981). We have stayed in touch ever since and Ben visited us as we moved around the country. Our children regularly received gifts of Duke insignia garments and always sported Duke t-shirts, hats, shorts and sweatshirts. Alas, Ben never tempted any of them to join him in Durham but we visited on several occasions and he proudly toured us around campus, introducing us to students and especially Pitchforks!

I love a capella harmony so every year Ben sent us a Pitchfork tape or later CD, and the kids grew up listening for that special First Tenor. Several times the group stopped by when on tour and needed dinner or a place to crash, and the last time I saw Ben was on the California tour two years ago. Although he was very sick, he rallied to sing with the group and beamed when he spotted his friends in the audience (photo attached).

The one time I fished in Alaska, we used a local processor to flash freeze the fresh caught salmon and send it out FedX. As Ben got sicker, and he began his love affair with salmon, I had boxes sent to him from Alaska, as fresh and healthy as could be found. I like to imagine that it added some days to his life…if not gave him a smile for the day.

What can I say about this special man? That he was the smartest person I have ever met? That he was sweet and generous? That he was an enigma at times, alternatively modest and proud? That he was always calm but could erupt in rapture? That he was sartorially challenged but would literally share the shirt from his back? That he consorted with royalty but found community feeding the homeless and hungry?

I can say for sure that he was one of a kind and that I loved him. He will be missed by many.

Thank you to the special friends who took such good care of him in his last years. You are angels.

Jane Weil and family
San Francisco

DECEMBER 22, 2013

This is a video recording I made of Ben playing with Hsiao-Mei Ku, a work by Ma Sicong called "Nostalgia."  Was here ever a more sensitive accompaniment?      


DECEMBER 21, 2013

I met Dr. Ward on only two occasions - one was a UNCSA student visit to his residence at Duke, another - his final appearance as pianist at UNCSA. On both, I was stunned by his tremendous erudition and the ease with which he picked up the conversation about the most obscure musical topics. His memory seemed superhuman. He would refer to a single CD among thousands on his shelves, and make remarks about the specific moments he liked on that record...

He was the person, the artist, the teacher I think we should all strive to become - an intellectual with a true passion for more knowledge, and at the same time exuding such warmth and simplicity about him as to put his students completely at ease. His horizons were so exceptionally wide, and yet he knew how to not overwhelm, "luring" the listener instead into these marvelous places his intellect had allowed him to see. 

His legacy will live on in the hearts of these many students, colleagues and friends whose passion for learning and inquiry he helped ignite. We at UNC School of the Arts are lucky to have been touched by him.

 -Dmitri Shteinberg

DECEMBER 21, 2013

April 2013, at my ten-year reunion

I took four classes with Professor Ward: Aesthetics, Philosophy of Sport, Existentialism, and Philosophy of Education. Since my graduation we had been emailing each other every one to two years.  I last met him at my ten- and five-year reunions.  This year we spent two hours together, including attending the football game for a while.

He reminded me that no matter what our employer tells us to do or what we need to do for our family, it’s very important to do something for ourselves which we are not responsible to anyone for.  He didn't view his work as work – he liked teaching and interacting with students.  It’s what he wanted to do.  He chose the classes he taught and he liked reading books that are unrelated to what he was teaching.  When I met him in April he was reading about constitutional law.  He believed that each time we read a book or hear a piece of music that we’ve read or heard before, it’s a different experience because we are different.

I like to think Professor Ward has shaped how I’ve developed.  One of the points he made in class was that the value of education is not in being able to remember all the facts you covered during classes or recite what people wrote, but in when you encounter something years later and you are forced to think about it differently because of your critical capacity.  I regularly remember this and like to look at things beyond the surface level, whether or not there is any incentive to do so.

I am forever grateful to Professor Ward for his lessons, encouragement, and friendship.

- Roshan Bharwaney

DECEMBER 20, 2013

Urban Ministries of Durham lost a dear friend and devoted volunteer on Dec.14. Dr. Benjamin F. Ward fought a valiant battle with cancer for several years, but never lost his zest for living and giving to others. As a former volunteer coordinator at UMD, I had the extreme privilege of working with Ben and calling him friend. But then, Ben’s infectious smile greeted each and every person at UMD as a friend. 

As I was quoted by Torry Bailey in “The Value of Giving Back” article which appeared in DukeTODAY June 6, 2008 
“Ben Ward redefines the terms dependable and indispensable. He is generous, kind and always treats all the clients of UMD with dignity and respect.”

The article continues to describe Ben (who had just received the 2008 Duke Employee Community Service award): 
“On average, Ward devotes two hours a day, five days per week to UMD. Ward discovered the homeless shelter on Main Street, near downtown Durham, while riding his bike. After passing by the shelter several times and wondering about some of the homeless African-American men standing around, he decided to stop.
Ward said UMD seemed to call to him, even though he did not know what to expect when he first walked through the doors. Upon entering, he was asked if he would be willing to assist other volunteers cook the evening meal three nights a week. Even though he had no formal training in cooking, he agreed.
Three days a week soon turned into everyday involvement. "I wanted the challenge," Ward said about his initial visit. "I wanted to do something different from the norm." More than 20 years and 10,400 hours later, Ward said he could not have imagined he would be at UMD this long, but is glad it's worked out that way.
"I learn a lot; a lot about the people, the city and myself," said Ward. "It's a measure of my own growth; it expands a sense of who I am."

Prior to receiving the Duke award, I nominated Ben for the 2008 Key Volunteer Award at the Volunteer Center of Durham. Ben received the award not only for the length of his service and the remarkable number of hours he devoted to UMD, but also for being the embodiment of UMD’s Core Values of Respect, Support, and Collaboration. 

Sadie Jordan, who worked with him at the original shelter/kitchen once said:
“He helps with [physical] work, spiritual development and even entertainment. He plays the piano for us on chili night! He's a marvelous individual. The world needs about a million more of him... you know, if they're going to clone someone, they should clone him.”

Although I wasn’t employed at UMD when this event occurred, I heard over and over again of the night Ben enlisted Duke colleagues to assist him with setting the dining hall tables with white linens, flowers and candles. They then became waiters and served a salmon dinner to the 220 community residents who had come to the “soup kitchen” expecting hot dogs for dinner.

Mere words cannot describe all that Ben was to the clients and staff of UMD. This humble beyond measure, unassuming giant of a man was a true blessing to all at UMD. Well done good and faithful servant. You will be missed beyond measure.


DECEMBER 18, 2013

Benjamin Ward and I shared a love of music by Richard Strauss, in particular his "Lieder", among them the "Four Last Songs". We had some discussions about the work and life of Richard Strauss and I gave him a copy of the "Life of Richard Strauss" by Bryan Gilliam, our colleague in the Duke Music Department. He told me how much he appreciated that biography. When we met, we talked about whether the Orchestral part for the "Four Last Songs" could be adapted for piano. It was my great wish to have him team up with the Soprano Susan Dunn to perform these very beautiful songs at a Duke recital.

-Horst Meyer

DECEMBER 18, 2013

One of my first student memories was walking into the Dean's Office for a meeting with what I expected would be the white-haired patrician Benjamin F. Ward and wondering what this tall, bearded black grad student was doing there. The wonder continued for four years as Ben taught me philosophy, played chamber music with me--from Schubert Piano Trios to Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time--and gave me the courage to apply for a Mellon Fellowship to Cambridge, an award I am convinced he won for me in single combat. In the pre-Facebook days, I lost touch with him and had no idea where he had settled after Yale. I couldn't be happier to read the tributes here and see my experience multiplied exponentially in the experiences of so many others. What ripples, what waves he created.

-Jonathan Levi

DECEMBER 18, 2013

Ben was an inspiration to me. When I think about a life worth living, I think about Ben as being a person who didn't waste a second on this earth. We should all see in Ben a model for a life of dignity, courage, caring, honor, and accomplishment - - a truly civilized and educated human being (with an emphasis on both human and being.) Can one even imagine the beauty and power of an earthly world populated with more people in his image? But I know how much brighter the heavens are now shining! And, angel choruses singing a cappella!

-Paula Phillips Burger

DECEMBER 17, 2013

The Ciompi Room concerts held for so many years after Giorgio's death--I think it was 13-- always around Giorgio's birthday, January 27th--same as Mozart! 
It was a pleasure to make music with Ben, to reminisce about old days and to keep the warmth of his friendship with my father vibrant and alive.

-Arturo Ciompi

DECEMBER 17, 2013


A concert pianist, Ward performed for the last time in UNCSA’s Watson Hall in October 2013, said Music Dean Wade

Weast. “I invited him to perform with our string faculty in an open reading of the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet and the Mozart G minor Piano Quartet for an invited audience of friends and students,” Weast said.

DECEMBER 17, 2013

An artist, a soldier, a pioneer.

The closest person, after my parents, to fit my definition of "mentor"
My professor, my advisor, my friend.
I wouldn't have been the same person if I haven't met you.
Good bye, Dr. Benjamin Ward. Rest in peace.

- John Shin

DECEMBER 17, 2013

The Pitchforks stayed at our house on the way to Chicago to sing the national anthem at a Bull's game. On the morning they left, Ben sat down at our piano and for two hours, playing from memory, enthralled us. He talked as he played, took requests, remembered stories from his youth and was, as always, the most gentle gentleman imaginable. He was ever one of the best things about get togethers with the Pitchforks. We will miss him. I wish we could have known him a lot longer.

-Joe Bates

DECEMBER 17, 2013

Here are a few pictures of Ben's trip to the Packer game with my family and I back in October of this year. 

-Sean-Patrick Oswald

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DECEMBER 17, 2013

Back in 2009 Ben invited me to his residence in Edens to play his beautiful 92-key Bosendorfer piano. I played Schubert's Impromptu Op. 90 No. 4 for him. When I finished, Ben told me that it sounded very nice but I had forgotten a note. He asked me to play a few bars from the middle portion (humming the part where I should start). I played a few measures and he said "RIGHT THERE." Sure enough I looked at the sheet music and he was right, there was a note on the page that I was not playing. Of the thousands of notes in this somewhat obscure piece of music Ben had heard the one that I had not been playing. I was dumbfounded that his ear had caught this omission from a song he probably hadn't heard in years. 

I was constantly amazed by Ben and proud to have known him.

- Tyler Clarke

DECEMBER 17, 2013

Professor Ward encouraged me to draw a series of cartoons for my final paper. We met in Edens 5C in a little room in the back.

-Eriks Reks

DECEMBER 17, 2013

I have a million memories of Ben. For the last three years, I've visited regularly in an attempt to capture his story. In the process, I discovered it's not possible to capture Ben's story. But, I learned a lot.

We talked to Ben about MLK, music, and mentorship. I learned about who he helped, why he helped, and what mattered to him. He was extraordinarily important to so many people. It's for that reason that I remember what he said when I asked, "What would you have done differently?" 

His words will forever ring in my ears. "If I could do it again, I would've tried to be more helpful." I'm not even sure how that would have been possible, but I will forever aspire to the standard he set.

All my love, Benjamin.

-Mark Hecker

DECEMBER 17, 2013

All - Ben's body was buried today in the Maplewood Cemetery in Durham in a simple, non-denominational, interfaith service per his direction.  If a setting for a burial can be beautiful, Ben's certainly was.  Ben is buried along the top of a knoll along the cemetery access road in section 19, in the shade (you know how he hated light in his apartment) with a view of the top of the Duke Chapel spires.  The service started at 3 pm, on a bright, late autumn day.  The ground was still wet from recent rains, but Hall-Wynne Funeral Home provided AstroTurf at the graveside which kept the dampness at bay.  It was cool in the shade, but the winds were calm, so it was not unpleasant.


For 40 some minutes before the service, Beethoven's Fifth piano concerto danced across the vista toward the chapel spires from an amazing sound system provided by Erick Uphoff (DJerock), my son and Ben's Godson.  My father-in-law, Nathan Brooks, wrote and lead the service, which is attached.  After the written service, the Pitchforks sang "Hallelujah" and "Simple Gifts" through recordings - there is no way that they could have done it live as it would have been far too difficult.  Their music provided the backdrop against which we watched the casket lowered into the grave.  There was not a dry eye to be found as we watched Ben's coffin drop before us.  After a brief explanation from Robert Rosenstein of the Jewish custom of placing 3 scoops of dirt into the grave on top of the casket using the back of a shovel, a brief benediction was pronounced as those present filed by the grave to add their scoops of dirt.  The adagio movement of Beethoven's 8th piano sonata provided the musical accompaniment.  The entire service took 20 minutes.

As services go, this one was quite moving for the small group present.  It was simple, it was inclusive, it was filled with music, it was final.  It was what Ben wanted.  

A Service of Remembrance is scheduled for January 18, 2014.  It will be held in the chapel.  A Reception of Remembrance will follow immediately in Penn Pavilion, near the Bryan Center on West Campus.

Just after the first of the year, I will begin planning these celebrations with the university.  As we figure out the role of the Pitchforks in the day's events, it will be helpful to know who all is coming.  If you can let me know by Sunday, January 5 if you are an alum and plan to attend, that would help us figure out how best to accommodate the group.  


Ben was one of the most influential men in my life. From the moment I joined the Pitchforks, Ben took me under his wing. He was my piano teacher and a very strict one at that. I would often sit in awe as he would effortlessly move up and down the keys. After he was finished he would shrug it off as if it were nothing and my heart would sink when he said "now its your turn". He was so patient with me despite my horrendous playing and he made me feel like I had a chance to be as good as him one day. He instilled a passion for piano playing and music that I will hold near and dear to me for the rest of my life. He was truly a giant among men and I am grateful for the gift of having known him. Thank you Ben

-Judner Attys

DECEMBER 16, 2013


We are grateful for his decision to direct people in the community toward UMD, a fitting legacy after his stalwart volunteering with us these many years.

In tribute to Ben's work at UMD, we've named a virtual plate in his honor through our website. We like to imagine that it recently held fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

-Urban Ministries of Durham

DECEMBER 16, 2013

I am very inspired by Ben Ward and his work in the community. We should all strive to be more like Ben.

-Blake W

DECEMBER 16, 2013

- Elliott McCrory

DECEMBER 16, 2013

Three memorable moments:

“Limburger sandwich” – Ben decided to sing that old crusty song to my brand new bride, Joanne Gold, during our wedding reception in Columbia, SC (November 25, 1983). My wife has never (cough!!) forgotten this gesture! 









“Ben Pitchforks” – Prior to a black tie concert in Florida (I think) in about 1982? I must say that none of us have changed one little bit over all these years.









“Ben Ward” – This is (IMHO) a perfect picture of Ben: conducting. This was during our Spring Break trip to Disneyworld in Orlando.












We love you, Ben!!

Elliott and Joanne McCrory

DECEMBER 16, 2013

I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Ben in late summer 2013 as we were gathering information for a feature story in "Working at Duke" about employees with disabilities. I will remember fondly his positive attitude and his love for all things Duke--our buildings, our students, our fellow employees. My thoughts and prayers are with all of Ben's friends and family. May he rest in peace.

- Leigh Fickling

DECEMBER 16, 2013

I grieve for you and all the generations Ben loved and mentored so powerfully. I first knew him many years ago—long before either of us ever imagined coming to Duke. In his young days at Yale, he was a phenomenon, as he remained—a master in such a vast range of subjects, with such a passionate love of leaning, music, and the communities they formed. Two memories stand out from a thousand. After I’d been named president of Duke, some Yale friends threw a farewell party in New York City. Late in the evening, there was a surprise: my host had flown up the Pitchforks, Duke’s equivalent of the Whiffenpoofs, with one older member who had carried the a capella torch from New Haven to Durham. From that happy reunion, I saw him a hundred times here, including—with Ben surprises never ended—at baseball games. But most majestic was the little concert in the East Duke Building where Ben, resurgent after a near fatal assault of his disease, rose triumphant to play the hard Beethoven piece written in thankfulness for survival in face of death. Men die but the spirit lives. What luck to have known him.

-Dick Brodhead

DECEMBER 16, 2013

We were honored to have Ben play at our wedding. I wanted to share the four photos below, which capture the Ben that I knew through my husband. A gentleman who loved his music, and a mentor who was always there for his Pitchforks. Ben will be greatly missed.

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Photo credits (a) first and fourth photo by Stephen Clark, (b) second and third photo by Krystal Kast.

Thank you,

Chris & Sara Bryant

DECEMBER 15, 2013

Back when I was in college, thinking about making a career of a cappella, there were very, very few individuals on the planet who seemed to understand the power and potential in our music. Ben was one of them, and like a hall of fame franchise quarterback, he lead the Duke Pitchforks to excellence year after year.

To call him a true believer would be a significant understatement, because he not only knew what a cappella could be, but he made it happen year after year, and many of the people whose lives he touched have gone on to spread the spirit and sound to many others.

So when you come across a viral a cappella video, or see The Sing Off, or watch Pitch Perfect, know that there's a little bit of Ben in every note.

- Deke Sharon

DECEMBER 15, 2013


















-Erick Uphoff

DECEMBER 15, 2013

Although I didn't know Ben well, being a part of the annual Christmas concert was a true pleasure and honor. I'll never forget his incredibly expressive conducting style, the way he tapped his fingers to close a note, or the way he would mouth "thank you" at the end of Alleluia or Mary Had a Baby. He was an extraordinary man and he will be missed and remembered.

-Caroline Griswold

DECEMBER 14, 2013

All - It with the heaviest of hearts that I write to report that Benjamin F Ward, Jr died at 7:23 pm on December 14, 2013. Our beloved Ben died peacefully and was surrounded by his friends - his "family" during this past time of struggle. Beethoven had just finished and the next piece had just started - Richard Strauss' "Fruehling," one of Ben's favorites. .

While I grieve for the loss of the friendship I have enjoyed all these years, I also rejoice the loss of pain and suffering for Benjamin. When the doctors asked recently if he was sad as they noticed his tears, he remarked that he wasn't sad, but "pleased that I'll be remembered well." I know I speak for many when I say that my memories are good and lasting. I'm sure I'll be telling Ben stories for many years to come.

I'm sure it will surprise no one to know that I have been able to arrange many of the details concerning how we recognize Ben's amazing life. Benjamin left some guidance, but we have filled in the blanks where that was needed in a manner which respects his wishes. I'm sure it will come as no surprise that the celebration of Ben's life will take a form you are likely not to have seen before. If you have questions, please contact me. Here's what you need to know:

Memorial contributions can be made to The Benjamin F Ward Endowment for the Arts at Duke University. Here is the link to contribute: Click the link that reads: "Add an unlisted designation" Type in: Fund Code: 615-9006.

Gifts of time in honor of Ben would be graciously appreciated by Urban Ministries in Durham, or the non-profit of your choice.

A small, private burial service will be held at a date and time yet to be determined.

A Service of Remembrance to which all are invited is scheduled for Saturday, January 18, 2014 in Duke Chapel on Duke University's West Campus. It will begin promptly at 3:00 pm.

A Reception of Remembrance to which all are invited shall take place immediately following the service in the chapel. The Reception will be held at the Penn Pavilion on Duke Univeristy's West Campus, within walking distance of the chapel.

In an effort for everyone to share in the incredible legacy of Ben's life, written messages and pictures can be posted to