Mary Ann Heath Ward

WARD MARY ANN HEATH, 84, died at Golden Living Center (St. Matthews Manor) on Saturday, November 17, 2007. She was born on November 19, 1922, in Casa, AR to Homer and Reba Redditt Heath. Both her parents and her grandfather, Victor N. Redditt were teachers in the public schools of Perry County on the southern border of historic Mt. Petite Jean. Her father was also a professional baseball pitcher in the Texas Leagues and worked as a kiln foreman for Bruce Lumber Company. Mary Ann was home schooled by her mother during the fourth and fifth years, enabling her to skip the first grade when she entered public school in Call, TX in 1928. When the Great Depression closed down Bruce Lumber in 1930, they moved back to AR. There Mary Ann skipped to the third grade and attended Little Rock public schools until her graduation from Central High in 1939 at age sixteen. She received a music scholarship to Ouachita Baptist College where she met Wayne Ward in the first practice of the Symphonic Choir on August 30, 1939. On her 17th birthday, November 19, 1939, on the steps of the First Presbyterian Church, Wayne asked her to be his wife. Because he was a flying cadet in the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps, the Navy required them to postpone their wedding until his graduation as a Lt. (JG) in the Naval Air Rescue Service. They were married in First Baptist Church of Little Rock, Mary Ann's home church, on June 15, 1943. She served with Wayne in Pensacola, FL where she was secretary to the pastor of First Baptist Church. Moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 1944, she worked with other Navy wives at the University of California in Berkeley while their Navy husbands brought back flight after flight of wounded sailors and Marines from the West Pacific theater. When Wayne was shipped to a Guam base, Mary Ann returned to her family in Little Rock and served in the office of the executive secretary of the Arkansas Baptist Convention until World War II ended. In March 1946, they enrolled in Southern Baptist Seminary and were both called to minister at Finchville Baptist Church. Mary Ann served in several roles at the seminary after Wayne was elected instructor in Theology and Biblical Languages in 1951. She worked for decades as an interviewer for both home and foreign mission volunteers. In 1971 she entered the Clinical Pastoral Education program and became a chaplain trainee at Kentucky Baptist Hospital. She was asked to participate in a federally endowed pilot program for rape victims and abused women and children at the old General Hospital. Because of that pioneering ministry, Mary Ann has even been called the "mother of the R.A.P.E. Relief Centers" which grew out of that program and are now all over the nation. That ministry and a companion ministry to inner city children and their families led to the honor she treasured most, the Clarence Jordan Award, from the Long Run Baptist Association. She taught and counseled in the International Baptist Seminary in Zurich-Ruschlikon, Switzerland 1961-62 and 1970-71 and in the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, Israel 1974-75, 1977-78 and 1981-82 while on sabbatical leaves. She developed an interactive "Relationship Seminar" program which the Foreign Mission Board invited her to lead virtually all their mission stations around the world during the 1970s and 1980s. Each week-long session began with her announcement: "Now Wayne will lay the biblical foundation, and I will have to deal with the nitty gritty: how to get along with yourself, your fellow-missionaries, and with God-without killing anybody!" On January 20, 1993, she and Wayne were guests of the Clintons and Gores at their inauguration in Washington, D.C. because of their long relationship with them. As she was leaving for Louisville on January 21, she was stricken with a massive stroke and heart attack from which she never fully recovered. For fourteen years and ten months she has endured agonizing pain, multiple surgeries, and increasing dementia. Her husband recalls, "About 4:30 p.m., Saturday, November 17, 2007, less than two days before her 85th birthday, she rallied amazingly, and asked the six children and grandchildren who were there to gather around her bed for her blessing. With a soft whisper, she gave the Aaronic Benediction which had been our bedtime prayer for many years. She looked into each face as we called each name and closed with the singing of her beloved Ha-Venu-Shalom- Aleichem. Many of our dear Golden Living Center (St. Matthews Manor) family of caregivers shared that vesper service with us each evening throughout the long years they cared for us." About 5:30 p.m., alone with Wayne, Mary Ann pulled him closer and whispered, "I love you." It was her last breath. Her long struggle was over. She leaves her husband of 64 years, her three children and their spouses, Larry Wayne Ward (Peggy) of Yorba Linda, CA, Rebecca Ann Fulgham (Jimmy) of Chattanooga, TN, and David Heath Ward (Mimi) of Shelbyville, KY; four grandchildren, Jason Ward Fulgham, Ashely Ann Fulgham, Jacqueline Marie Ward, and Thomas Lee Ward. Shannon Funeral Service is in charge of arrangements, with Finchville-Shelby County visitation on Monday, November 19th, 5-8 p.m. at Shannon's. The funeral will be 11 a.m. Tuesday, November 20, at the Shannon's Chapel, led by Pastor Jay Tigner. Crescent Hill Baptist Church family visitation will be in the church's sanctuary at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, November 21 with another funeral service at 11 a.m. Wednesday, led by Pastor Gregory Pope and Associate Pastor William Johnson. Burial will follow at the Cave Hill Cemetery. The family requests that any memorial gifts go to Finchville Baptist Church, Crescent Hill Baptist Church, or Golden Living Center (St. Matthews Manor.)

Published in The Courier-Journal on Nov. 19, 2007