Harry Pfeffer Ward (1933–2008)

Harry P. Ward, M.D., in his twenty-one-year tenure as chancellor, was credited with changing the University of Arkansas School of Medicine from a small teaching institution and charity hospital to a major health center known as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). He led UAMS through major expansions of facilities and programs as it became a leader in education, patient care, and research.

Harry Pfeffer Ward was born on June 6, 1933, in Pueblo, Colorado, the second of three sons of Dr. Lester Ward and Alysmai Ward. His father was a family practitioner, and Ward frequently accompanied him on house calls and always said he wanted to be a doctor. He attended public schools and then graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1955. He graduated from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. After an internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, he served his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, receiving a Master of Science degree there, with a specialty in hematology and internal medicine.

In 1955, Ward married his high school sweetheart, Betty Jo Stewart, a musician and artist. They had five children. Betty Jo Ward was an important partner in the various social and official duties of the UAMS chancellor. Among other activities, she created the gift shop at the hospital, which produced several hundred thousand dollars in revenue, and she volunteered there for many years.

In 1963, Ward joined the faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He became dean of medicine there in 1973 and was the chief medical officer at the local Veterans Administration hospital. He also served as acting chancellor of the medical school.

In 1978, the Arkansas dean of medicine, who knew Ward, encouraged him to consider applying for the vacant chancellor position at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine. In January 1979, the Wards came to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and, during dinner with the president of the university, received a phone call inviting them to the Governor’s Mansion. There, they visited with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the governor encouraged him to accept the position and pledged the full support of his office. They developed a close relationship, and the governor was helpful in the various programs Ward initiated. After his election as president of the United States, Clinton invited Ward to the White House.

Ward accepted the position as chancellor in 1979. He began to raise money and also public awareness. During his time as chancellor, he oversaw an increase in appropriations from the Arkansas General Assembly, the receipt of gifts from citizens and institutions, and an increase in research grants from government and other sources. He strove to have the institution recognized as a primary source of quality specialty care for private pay patients as well as indigent patients.

He created the UAMS Foundation Board to guide fundraising, and a capital campaign called Invest in Life raised $65 million from private sources. External research grants increased from $4 million in 1979 to $76 million by 2000. By 1998, approximately $200 million in new structures were on the campus. In 1979, there were no endowed chairs for faculty, and by 2003, there were eighteen endowments of $1 million or more, including the Harry P. Ward Chancellor’s Chair. The campus budget in 1980 was $60 million and grew to almost half a billion dollars by 1998.

He oversaw fundraising from private sources to create programs, and frequently new buildings to house them, and created partnerships with Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Veterans Administration Hospital, and the National Center for Toxicological Research in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).

He recruited faculty and staff to create programs that became nationally and internationally known for neurosurgery and treatment of certain types of cancer. By 1997, the research programs had obtained thirteen patents and created three spin-off companies.

Ward received many professional and other honors, including the 1997 Arkansas March of Dimes Man of the Year, the Arkansas Times 1998 Arkansan of the Year, and the Arkansas Hospital Association Distinguished Service Award. In 1997, the new $55 million Clinical Tower at UAMS was dedicated. As a surprise to Ward, the unveiling of the signage revealed that the trustees had named the building the Harry P. Ward Tower. Later, the name was changed to the Harry P. and Betty Jo Ward Tower, in recognition of his wife’s contributions.

Ward was known for his engaging personality as well as his intelligence and skill in getting what he wanted. Once, he was escorting Jackson T. Stephens, who ran the largest investment house off Wall Street (Stephens Inc.), around campus while explaining his goal of building a world-class institute for brain and spinal research and clinical care. Stephens looked around and pointed to one of the new buildings nearby, which was about ten stories tall. “How much would it cost to build one like that of fifteen stories?” Stephens asked. Ward thought a few seconds and guessed that it would be perhaps $20 million. When they returned to his office, Stephens wrote a check for what became the Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.

Ward had technical discussions with the top scientists he recruited but often stopped to chat with a nurse or a janitor when visiting various departments. In interviews, he always credited his deans and faculty with the many successes of his tenure. He rarely forgot a name or face, which aided in his recruitment of supporters and donors. He was an avid tennis player into his seventies.

He retired in 2000 as chancellor emeritus. When asked what he considered his major accomplishment, he said, “Probably getting the private sector interested in UAMS.” Ward died on March 11, 2008.

For additional information:
“A Celebration of Life. Harry P. Ward, M.D.” Program for UAMS Ceremony, March 19, 2008.

H. P. Ward Biographical File. Historical Research Center. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Lancaster, Bob. “Arkansan of the Year.” Arkansas Times, January 30, 1998.

Mann, Edwina Walls. “The Ward Era.” UAMS Journal (Spring 2001).

W. W. Satterfield
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 01/13/2021

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