It surprises few who worked for The Evening Sun the past few decades that John W. Ward outlived his paper, due to see its last sunset today.
The paper was his as much as anyone's for almost six decades. He may well now be the Sunpapers' oldest living alumnus, observing life and Mount Baker at 97 from a retirement home in Portland, Ore., near his niece, Ellen Nesbitt, and his sister, Katharine.
Mr. Ward was born the year of the Spanish-American War, 1898, and grew up in Jarrettsville, Harford County. He vaguely remembers The Evening Sun's early years after 1910. He worked briefly for The Sun in 1920 and then The News.
Finally, he has said, he got those papers out of his system: "I became a serious journalist" and joined The Evening Sun in 1923. He didn't quit until almost six decades later, in 1979.
He was 80 then and had been financial editor for several decades, known for his courtly manners, his World War II Army duty beyond the normal service age, a refined stubbornness and a just-as-refined sense of humor, his summoning the troops for an Extra when the Hindenburg blew up, his board-room suits in a Grateful Dead newsroom, his downtown walks and his cane waving at drivers who came too close.
His passion for trains and friendship with their presidents was legendary. He still knows the names and lineage of forgotten railroads, preferring the old eastern anthracite railroads such as the Reading, Lehigh Valley, the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie.
In his high-rise Baltimore home, he could peer down out of his window and frown when a train pulled into Penn Station a couple minutes early or late.
When Evening Sun colleagues gather in any numbers, they invariably ask, "How's John Ward doing?"
"I'm in very good health for a very old man," he said in one of several chats by phone in recent months. "My legs have gone bad and I use a wheelchair, but I'm going to last forever. Can you folks in Baltimore say that?
"I'm sorry to see The Evening Sun go down. It's really sad. I enjoyed working there so much. It's pretty bad to lose that much circulation. You can't keep going that way. . . please send me the last edition." Done.
Mr. Ward prefers the phone to letters . There was a crash on the floor in Portland. Mr. Ward returned after a few seconds. "That noise you heard was my phone falling on the floor. Stay on the line. I'm still alive."
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