John Louis Ward (1930–2012)

John Louis Ward was an author, editor, journalist, teacher, and political operative from Arkansas. In addition to becoming the first major biographer of Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller, he is known for his work as a campaign manager and public relations director. He was also heavily involved in the academic affairs of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) and the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County).

John Ward was born on December 17, 1930, in Damascus (Van Buren and Faulkner Counties) to Roy W. Ward and Mamie L. Ward. His father was a pastor. Ward was one of eight children. A talented musician, Ward played in his high school band and even toured as a saxophone player, though he ended up studying journalism in college. He was only a few credits away from graduating with a journalism degree at Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA) before dropping out to work in newspapers. He returned to college in the late 1960s.

Ward first made a name for himself as a journalist at the Arkansas Democrat, covering such tragic stories as the Negro Boys Industrial School fire in Wrightsville (Pulaski County) in 1959 and the March 1960 crash of a U.S. Air Force jet in Allsopp Park in the Pulaski Heights neighborhood of Little Rock (Pulaski County). While covering a segregationist rally in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) in the late 1950s, he and an Arkansas Democrat photographer were confronted by an angry white mob. Despite occasional dangers, Ward enjoyed working as a journalist, praising his editor at the Arkansas Democrat, Marcus George, saying, “I had the best job in journalism in Arkansas.” George told him to “make your own assignments, make your own photos, and go where you want, and we’ll publish your stories.”

An article on mental illness attracted the attention of Jeannette Rockefeller, Winthrop Rockefeller’s wife. Winthrop Rockefeller invited Ward to his home at Petit Jean Mountain for an interview, sending his private jet to pick him up. It was Ward’s first trip on an airplane, and it began a long relationship between him and the Rockefeller family. From 1964 through 1971, Ward was the director of public relations for Winthrop Rockefeller.

While working for Rockefeller, Ward finished his college education. In 1968, he graduated from Little Rock University (now UA Little Rock).

Ward was heavily involved in higher education, holding positions at UA Little Rock, UCA, and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). For most of the 1980s, he was director for information services for the University of Arkansas System. In 1988, he became vice president for public affairs at UCA, where he also was a professor of journalism. His work in Conway included the founding—with his brother Bill Ward—of the long-running Toad Suck Daze festival in 1982. In 1996, he left UCA to teach journalism at UA, but he eventually returned to Conway.

Winthrop Rockefeller’s death in 1973 did not put an end to Ward’s work with the Rockefellers. In 1996, he managed Winthrop Rockefeller’s son Winthrop Paul Rockefeller’s successful campaign for lieutenant governor; Rockefeller served for ten years under Governor Mike Huckabee.

In addition to his journalism, Ward was an accomplished editor and author. He worked as managing editor at the Log Cabin Democrat for twelve years and as an editor at the Oxford American. He also was the author of two books. The first was The Arkansas Rockefeller, published in 1978 through Louisiana State University Press. The book took a decidedly positive view of Rockefeller. His second book was Winthrop Rockefeller, Philanthropist, published in 2004 by the University of Arkansas Press. While comprehensive and well researched, it is considered less readable than his first book.

Ward was member and president of the Arkansas Chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, Society of Professional Journalists; member and later chairman of the board at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation; chair of the Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lectures Committee; and director of marketing and public relations for the Winthrop Rockefeller Center (now the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute) on Petit Jean Mountain.

Ward received numerous awards and citations from a variety of organizations, including a citation from the American Cancer Society; the Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Service from the Institute of Politics and Government; “Man of the Year 1981” from the Arkansas Press Association; a Distinguished Service Award from the Arkansas Press Association; a Distinguished Service Award from UA Little Rock in 1983; and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from UA Little Rock in 2011.

Ward died on November 29, 2012, after a long battle with cancer. At the time, he was at his family’s farm at Bee Branch (Van Buren County). He and his wife, Betty Chandler Ward, had a son and daughter.

For additional information:
“Alums Honor Author, Journalist John Ward.” UA Little Rock University News Archive, February 22, 2011. (accessed March 21, 2023).

“Distinguished Alum John Ward Dies.” UA Little Rock University News Archive, November 30, 2012. (accessed March 21, 2023).

Colin Edward Woodward
Richmond, Virginia


No comments on this entry yet.