Obituary: Stanley Ward, 67, former PGN editor

Stanley Ward, a former college professor and editor of PGN, died last weekend of complications from a stroke. He was 67.

Ward, a native of Bristol, Va., who was raised in Roanoke, served as PGN editor in the 1980s after a successful career as an educator.

Ward received his undergraduate degree from Duke University and went on to earn his Ph.D. in English from Harvard.

Lynn Bergesen met Ward when she was attending North Carolina State University, where he taught English and became her mentor, helping her navigate the process of applying to graduate school. Bergesen later moved north to study at Temple University and said Ward made his own move to Philadelphia in 1981.

“He’d been at this small college in Virginia for several years, and he eventually went to the dean and announced that he was gay,” she said. “He never liked living in the closet. He said to him, ‘I’m gay. Do you want my resignation?’ and the dean said yes. So my husband and I talked to him and suggested that he come up to Philadelphia because there was a full-time teaching job open at the time at the University of the Arts.”

While Ward didn’t get that position, he did get a part-time teaching job at UArts and also took on courses at Temple and other area schools.

Ward started writing for PGN in 1982 and, a year later, was promoted to editor, a position he held until 1988.

Bergesen said Ward was an important fixture at PGN throughout the height of the AIDS crisis.

“He was very devoted to the paper,” she said. “He was often the liaison on the news channels when anything broke about AIDS research. He was right there when everything started happening with the epidemic, and he had really good memories of his time working at the Gay News and all that he was able to do for the community.”

Former PGN writer Tommi Avicolli Mecca worked closely with Ward during his time at PGN and said the editor had a unique and very effective way of approaching LGBT journalism.

“I dropped out of journalism school because I became really disillusioned because I had wanted to do advocacy journalism and I was told I couldn’t do that. But Stanley taught me how to,” he said. “He had a way to bring advocacy into journalism where you didn’t even really know that it was there, but it was.”

Avicolli Mecca, who succeeded Ward as the paper’s editor, remembered one story he pursued in which a police district in Philadelphia was compiling addresses where known HIV-positive people lived so that officers wouldn’t respond to those sites, as they were afraid of contracting the disease. He said Ward worked closely with him to construct the story so that it was based in fact and followed journalistic principles, but that he also was able to elicit the necessary public response.

“I really credit Stanley with helping me to frame the story in a way that it didn’t just look like an ACT-UP press release, but at the same time it had the impact of ACT-UP action,” he said. “When it broke, the straight press used us as a source and the police commissioner even called me and apologized. There was that fine line of journalism and advocacy, and Stanley was very good at maneuvering that and taught me how to do it also.”

Avicolli Mecca said Ward was one of the main reasons PGN saw success and growth throughout the ’80s.

“I think in the ’80s, PGN really flowered and became a major, major force in the queer community and I think Stanley deserves most of the credit for that,” he said. “He taught us how to be powerful journalists. He nurtured us, he encouraged us and, without an editor to do that, a reporter can’t flower and you can’t have a paper that goes anywhere.“

For most of the 1990s, Ward served as a partner in a communications agency run by Bergesen and her husband David Ursone, where he performed editing and typesetting, and from 2000-07 he was employed as a medical editor with Reed Elsevier.

Bergesen said Ward was “always busy,” but in the spare time he did have, he’d write poetry, translate German plays and even pen movie reviews of gay-porn films.

Just as Avicolli Mecca commended Ward’s ability to cultivate younger generations of journalists, Bergesen said that love of teaching permeated every facet of his life.

“He had a real willingness to share his love of music and literature and the arts with anyone he knew. He was a great teacher and had students all over the country who remember him,” Bergesen said, noting UArts called him numerous times to mentor students who were struggling with coming out.

In February 2007, Ward suffered a stroke and eventually moved in with Bergesen and Ursone in Parsippany, N.J. Ward was paralyzed on his left side, but Bergesen said he had been making progress in his mobility. Then, a final setback: Ward fell and suffered subdural hematoma and later formed blood clots.

He spent the last year-and-a-half at the Troy Hills Center in New Jersey, and died in hospice care Aug. 22.

Ward was predeceased by his father, Frank Hamlin Ward, and his mother, Myra Lee Mitchell Ward, and survived by many friends.

Ward will be cremated. Bergesen said she’s encouraging his friends to light a candle in his honor on Dec. 19, his birthday.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].