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Washington State University
College of Education

In Memoriam — Kelly Ward

Kelly Ward.

A teacher. A mentor. A colleague. A friend.

Following a fall earlier in the week, on Sunday, July 8, 2018, Kelly Ward’s husband Gene sent this message: “Kelly has taken the next step in her adventure, with strength and grace and beauty, as always. Peace be with all of you.”

She was only 54 years young.

Kelly was an active participant with the Association for the Study of Higher Education. As ASHE wrote: “Kelly represented a balanced integration of work and life. She was an avid horse rider, a rodeo queen, a mom to three, a wife to Gene, an awesome dancer, a lover of shoes, an explorer, and a giver. She spent her life trying to teach people how it important it is to have a life, to take risks, and to live in the moment. Kelly was just in Barcelona, Spain a week ago!”

Kelly will be incredibly missed and the void she leaves will be felt for a long time.

A Funeral Mass was held for Kelly on Friday, August 3. A Celebration of Life took place on August 4.

View Funeral info     Read Obituary     Read Provost Tribute

Colleagues speak

    • “Kelly was a wonderful, kind, supportive lady and I will always think of her more as a friend than a colleague. We first met 7 years ago when I began my career in the Teaching and Learning department. Kelly was one of the first faculty in the college to welcome me and she did such a super job making me feel at home. We often met in social situations, AFW, Crimson Club, birthday parties and other social events. Whenever I had the opportunity to visit with Kelly about family and events that we were both involved in, I always felt close to her and a part of her life. I was proud of her when she accepted the position in the provost office, but I missed our chats in the hall after she left. She was a super example of grace, kindness and a welcoming spirit at WSU and in the community and I will miss her greatly! Gene and the kids are in our prayers!” – Susie Skavdahl
    • “It has been difficult coming to terms with Kelly’s passing away. The day we heard Kelly passed on, my wife and I lost a piece of our heart. Kelly was a great scholar, a devoted Chair, a great mentor, and advocate for faculty, staff and students. More than all these, Kelly was a kind-hearted fellow who cared deeply about others. She looked out for everyone around her and looked for every opportunity to make WSU a great place to work for everyone. I will never forget how Kelly extolled my scholarship and celebrated my national and WSU awards. Kelly cared not just about work and scholarship – she cared to ask about how things were going with me and my family. She did everything possible to make us enjoy working here. I will never forget conversations she had with me about how to strike a work-life balance, and spending time with family. Kelly, thank you for teaching us how to lead and care for those around us. You were truly a great leader. We pray that your family will find God’s comfort during this difficult time.” – Sola Adesope
    • “Kelly had a zest for life, and an enthusiasm for reading grad student work for an argument. She would pierce holes in a bad argument but do it supportively. A real role model especially for women at all faculty career stages. I miss her terribly.” – AG Rud
    • “During my first three years at WSU, Kelly has offered a great mentorship to help me navigate through the academic career as well as balance research with program duty. She is such an inspirational person, always encouraging, caring, and wise. She is very easy to talk to and I can just knock on her door whenever I need to consult. She has been a great role model for me and WSU female faculty. I am sure that Kelly’s spirit will be passed on. She will be very missed.” – Hsin-Ya Liao
    • “Ever since Kelly arrived at WSU we worked and also played together. We went through many stages of life together – working our way through the ranks of higher education, working as administrators figuring out how to run departments, and of course sharing our experiences of motherhood and raising children. Kelly was a wonderful, kind, caring, and positive person who was always willing to help, mentor, and support. She was so creative and always full of bright possibilities. Yes, she was an excellent scholar, teacher, and colleague. But she was also a great person and a wonderful friend. She will be very, very missed.” – Darcy Miller
    • “I’d like to commemorate and memorialize Kelly’s efforts in helping advance Native education. She was an ally who I respected and appreciated for her willingness to help to secure a grant as. Suwyn Lecture. Aligning with our mission to include our host nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, she was instrumental in helping me to secure hosted receptions for our guest lecture speakers. Not only did she extend her assistance, she was supportive in helping to create a program that included Indigenous education that I was proud of within the College of Edu. I will forever be touched by her work and legacy to advance a goal I have hoped for and envisioned. My thanks and gratitude to her, and prayers to her husband and children and dear relatives who will feel this deep loss.” – renée holt
    • “I’m so grateful to have known and learned from Kelly these past two years at WSU. Every interaction I had with her taught me the possibilities of engaged scholarship, of being in my work with my whole heart, and cultivating a life and career with depth, meaning, and authenticity. Kelly, we are so blessed to have had you in our lives.” – Molly Kelton
    • “I didn’t know Kelly Ward when I as hired as the Director of the Superintendent Preparation Program. Yet, over the four years we worked together, we became close. With my 40+ years as a school administrator and school superintendent, Kelly saw me as potential ally in advocating for equalizing opportunities for women educational leaders. When she suggested we partner to research women educators, I jumped at the chance—not understanding my utter lack of preparedness for the task. My deficits didn’t faze Kelly. She mentored me through my first IRB, my first interview protocols and transcriptions, and the challenges of scholarly writing. We presented at conferences together, which provided us time to take long walks where we shared our life stories. Kelly offered wise counsel in my transition from school administrator to higher education faculty member. Kelly’s energy was boundless. She made it a point to attend superintendent program graduations in the evenings, to welcome new superintendent cohorts, and traveled to Olympia just to support our program. Kelly never lost track of program enrollment numbers and frequently asked about them during enrollment season. She carefully followed my progress in recruiting more women and minorities into the program. I never saw Kelly back away from even the thorniest problem nor was she daunted by dysfunctional meeting dynamics. Rather, she engaged people in problem solving and resolving conflict. She treated everyone with respect and consistently presumed good intentions which lead to positive and productive meeting outcomes. Kelly was a keen observer of people. She possessed unerring judgment when it came to “tapping” future leaders whom she would mentor. While her technical skills were without equal, Kelly’s greatest gift was her ability to inspire, motivate and teach. My heart is fuller for having Kelly as a friend and mentor these past four years. It is my world that is emptier with Kelly’s passing. I went for a walk on the beach last night. I took Kelly with me. Rest well, my friend. We have many more miles to walk… ” – Glenys Hill
    • “Kelly was a great provider of reads for my book club. She provided me many great recommendations. Her last recommendation to me and one she was enjoying was Sing Unburied Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. I’ll miss our book discussions.” – Bev Rhoades
    • “I have been Kelly’s next-door office neighbor for the past year in the provost office. Reading so many notes to and about Kelly makes me feel especially privileged to have shared my life with hers, although all too briefly. We had wonderful conversations both about work and about anything else, although the more expansive discussions were rare and precious given how busy we both were. She was so proud of her children! And she was so thoughtful and supportive of others’ families. Kelly may or may not have met my younger son, but when he had a graduation party from WSU this May she was there, by golly, and she had a sweet gift for him. Unbeknownst to me she also knew it was my birthday and had a gift for me. She often brought flowers, treats, and holiday gifts to the office – and her instincts were perfect (dark chocolate seemed right for me, she said). She really was sunshine. Selfishly, I also am heartbroken that I was just at the beginning of knowing Kelly, and that I am cut short from getting to experience Kelly in the ways I see that she has enriched so many lives. She already was enriching mine as well, through her generosity, creativity, and determination to make a positive difference with everything she touched. In my Jewish tradition we call this Tikkun Olam, healing the world. I felt we shared a common life’s mission from our different traditions. In my office we will walk in her footsteps and will continue to work toward making the difference for which she was leading the way.” – Erica Austin
    • “I was just getting to know Kelly – I knew her scholarship, but I was just getting to know her as a person… even cooler in real life. They say don’t meet your heroes, but I always felt elevated after talking with Kelly. I remember after our session in Columbus, she took the time to give me some good career advice… right after the session. I followed up on email… even more good mentorship. We’ve lost a truly wonderful soul, and scholar. I’m just devastated.” – Richard Reddick
    • “Most of my memories of Kelly are of her smiling, planning some fun event or talking about an upcoming one with friends and family. We study almost exactly the same areas – and I have followed in her footsteps – with Kelly maybe 3-5 years ahead. She has been an example of how to pack SO much into one life – partnership, kids who you are crazy about and spend time with, a full faculty and academic leader career, travel, horse, colleagueship and deep friendships. I just saw her picture with Chris Morphew – a long time friend I know – in Spain and was looking forward to hearing what she was doing next when I saw her at ASHE. I am so grateful for Kelly’s generous spirit, her example of how to love life and career and make sure career does not take over life – something many people are not good at and she was, perspective, laugh, and contributions to our field – in that order. Kelly mentored so many – people who did not even know her. I am so grateful to have had her in my life and will hug my people tighter as I know she would want us to do right now and always.” – KerryAnn O’Meara
    • “I am so sorry to learn of Kelly’s death. So sad and unexpected. It was my privilege to come to know Kelly when she was just beginning her career in higher education. And what a stellar career it has been! But most of all I was impressed with her dedication to becoming a consummate professional AND wife and mother. She was so proud of her children. And so committed to ensuring women like her found an important and valued place in academe. I salute her achievements. I am sure she has paved the way for many – men as well as women.” – Kay Moore
    • “I recall meeting Kelly about 18 years ago at AERA when she was conducting the new faculty workshop. As a new faculty member, she was a wonderful first point of contact in the professional organizations as she was so calm about the entire process! Like Kelly, I too have three children and I was wondering how I was going to manage it all and to get tenure with teenagers. Kelly was an ongoing source of support over my career and always willing to lend an ear when I had questions or issues. I invited Kelly and Lisa out to Central Michigan University for a talk about their work on academic motherhood. What I best recollect about that visit is how Kelly was so upbeat – this after traversing to Mt. Pleasant in the middle of a snow storm! Her good nature and high level of organization made the workshops a big hit. We got to spend time together writing and doing some workshops on the topic of Lean In and the role of gender in leadership. She was a great co-editor as her insight was spot on and her writing so clear and concise. I feel lucky we got time together in NYC at AERA this past April. We chatted about our next exploits and were cooking up some ideas about how to do some presentations together in the upcoming year. Kelly is the kind of collaborator everyone dreams about – she has great common sense, can call out BS when she sees it, and always focuses on fun. We were constantly comparing notes on kids, swapping advise, and working to support the work of women in the academe. It is with a heavy heart that I think of not seeing her again at the next conference – she was always among the first I’d run into in the lobby and a Kelly hug let you know that all was right with the world! I will remember to carry her spirit with me so that others can benefit from the esprit de corps she possessed.” – Pamela Eddy

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Helpful Resources

During this difficult time, faculty and staff may wish to contact the Employee Assistant Program 24/7:


The Kelly Ward Legacy Fund has been set up by the WSU Foundation for the advancement of women faculty at WSU.The Office of the Provost will work with the Association for Faculty Women and the Commission on the Status of Women to make sure Kelly is remembered.

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Good memories…