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Charles David Ward, disability advocate, dies

Charles David Ward
Charles David Ward

Dave Ward, a disability rights advocate who had been the Maryland Commission on Disabilities chair, died of multiple organ failure May 8 at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. He was 73 and lived in Phoenix in Baltimore County.

“Dave was an immensely friendly and likable man,” said Douglas Schmidt, chair of Chimes International. “Everyone from nurses to people with disabilities to governors of Maryland were drawn to Dave-and — for being a warrior on the front line of breaking down barriers and opening up possibilities for everyone."

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Born Charles David Ward in Delphi, Indiana, and known as Dave, he was the son of Charles Richard Ward, an industrial heavy equipment salesman, and his wife, Donna Myers.

He moved with his family to Baltimore in 1964 and was a 1965 graduate of Dulaney High School. He attended the University of Baltimore.

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He initially worked for Squibb Beech Nut and later sold agricultural, construction and industrial equipment.

In 1977 Mr. Ward fell from a zip line into a shallow lake and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic.

For the last four decades Mr. Ward was an advocate advocate for people with disabilities.

“He was charming and charismatic,” said his sister, Trudy Guetler of Millville, Delaware. “The man never lost his positive attitude.”

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Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named him to chair a new panel, the Maryland Commission for Disabilities.

“Dave truly believed in and fought hard for equality and empowerment for people with disabilities, including developmental disabilities,” his sister said.

Mr. Ward also served as chair of the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities for eight years.

“Dave was the embodiment of courage. Despite the obvious physical limitations of quadriplegia, he accomplished more in 40 years than 10 of us do in a lifetime,” said Mr. Schmidt. "His list of accomplishments and awards is astounding and completely earned. Dave’s life’s work was all about potential and not disabilities.

“Tens of thousands of Maryland families and parents can thank Dave Ward for being a warrior on the front line of breaking down barriers and opening up possibilities for everyone,” Mr. Schmidt said.

A 1994 Baltimore Sun article described his move into Future Home, a dream house renovated especially for the disabled and the elderly on Jarrettsville Pike. Mr. Ward had previously had an apartment in the old home, which faced an uncertain future.

“This is not just for Dave Ward,” Mr. Ward said in the article. “This is something for everyone.”

The article described Future Home as the restored early stone Smith Tavern on 26 acres in Gunpowder State Park. “The state-owned building was rescued from demolition by Mr. Ward in 1986, and since has been listed in the state inventory of historic sites,” the newspaper account said.

The building was upgraded with three miles of wiring, three central computer systems, three voice recognition units and another 10 computer-driven accessories, the article said.

“Doors open as a wheelchair approaches, windows open and close with the touch of a button, water runs, and kitchen counters rise and descend the same way. Video cameras and microphones monitor activity inside and outside the house, and air and water temperatures can be controlled from a small console,” said the account.

The old tavern’s entrances were enlarged to accommodate wheelchairs. An automated staircase provided access to the upstairs.

“Voice-activated computers respond politely to every command,” the story said.

Money for the basic $400,000 renovation of the tavern came from Mr. Ward and his family, from other private donations, and a grant from the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities.

The Volunteers for Medical Engineering, with headquarters at the Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore, and Mr. Ward designed the complex electronics system that operates the home.

“I had always wanted to restore this house,” he said. “Now I’m going to live in it.”

He also sat on boards at Chimes International.

“It is difficult to overstate Dave’s impact on the lives of so many people in Maryland. Dave was a pioneer and a giant in disability rights and opportunities, beginning in the 1970s,” said Mr. Schmidt. “He helped change laws and make Maryland accessible for tens of thousands. He lobbied, advocated, organized and even flaunted arrest to make our world a better place.”

Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger asked Mr. Ward to serve as his special adviser on disability rights during his first run for Congress

A memorial service is being planned. No date has been set.

In addition to his sister, survivors two brothers, Steven Ward of Towson and Stanley Ward of Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania; and his caregiver, Joann Gaylor of Phoenix.

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