Col. Mary Kim Ward, an innovative career Baltimore County Police officer who rose through the ranks to become for many years the highest-ranking female officer in department history, died Aug. 7 of ovarian carcinosarcoma, a rare cancer, at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The resident of Phoenix in Baltimore County was 63.
“Kim was a visionary and always had her ear to the ground and where she placed us as an agency was based on issues that were important to communities. She took us there,” said Maj. Karen Johnson, who retired in 2014 after 25 years with the department.
“Her position gave her authority, which she used judiciously. She was more of a coach than a disciplinarian,” Maj. Johnson said. “She was an instructor at the academy when I was there and she was always so positive and encouraging and she helped bring us through the ranks to special assignments.”
Mary Kim Ward — she did not use her first name — was the daughter of John Robert “Bob” Ward, an Exxon accountant, and his wife, Theresa Joan Tayman Ward, a homemaker. Born in Baltimore, she was raised on Evesham Avenue in Govans.
After graduating from Seton High School in 1975, she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979 in education from what is now Towson University, and in 1991 she obtained a master’s degree in education, also from Towson, which she followed with a second master’s degree in applied behavioral science in 1997 from the Johns Hopkins University.
After teaching in a parochial school, she joined the Baltimore County Police Department in 1981.
When she completed probation in 1983, her supervisor made a prophetic observation in his evaluation. “Officer Ward is an aggressive officer and she takes pride in her work,” the supervisor wrote. “Officer Ward is always willing to help others and helps create good morale. If she continues at her present pace she will become a fine police officer.”
Col. Ward began her career as a patrol officer assigned to the Cockeysville Precinct. In 1984 she began working in police-community relations, and after being promoted to corporal she joined the 911 communications center.
She was promoted to sergeant in 1987, and from 1986 to 1990 she was assigned to the Police Training Academy. After attaining the rank of lieutenant, she was transferred to the Garrison Precinct. She joined the Employment Affirmative Action Division in 1990, and after two years transferred to the personnel section.
After being promoted to captain in 1992, she began working in the Internal Affairs Section, and the next year when she became a major, she joined the Information Services Division and, at the time, was the police department’s highest-ranking female officer.
She became precinct commander in Essex in 1994 and a year later, went to work as head of the department’s Human Resources Bureau, and after five years, transferred to the Operations Bureau, and in 2006 returned to the Human Services Bureau.
As commander of the Human Services Bureau, Col. Ward told The Sun in a 1998 interview that the department needed more minorities and women, but recruiting them was a “national problem.”
“We have to be honest about the history — minorities have different concerns about their past with law enforcement. Trust is a big issue,” she told The Sun.
She made departmental history when she was promoted to colonel in 1995, which made her the highest-ranking female officer, and remained so until Melissa Hyatt was appointed chief in 2019.
In 1995, Col. Ward joined the Human Resources Bureau, and five years later was named chief of the Operations Bureau where she established a pilot project for the department that paired police officers with mental health caseworkers that helped respond to people who were in a crisis.
She returned to the Human Services Bureau in 2006 and later that year joined the Community Resources Bureau, where she spent that last nine years of her career until retiring in 2015.
Another innovative program that Col. Ward founded joined police officers with caseworkers from the Department of Juvenile Services, whose focus was preventing juvenile crime and was expanded by 2009 to include all of the department’s precincts.
“Throughout her career, Kim set the bar very high when it came to leading change, leading people, and serving our community. Colonel Ward was a champion for female and minority law enforcement officers and the unique issues we face,” Maj. Johnson said in her eulogy.
“Kim could often be heard saying ‘the soft stuff is the hard stuff.’ Meaning, sometimes it’s hard to put yourself out there on a personal level, but in order to successfully lead others, you must first show them that you care about them,” she said.
“Colonel Ward was a visionary and a staunch advocate for the education of law enforcement officers and the communities we serve. She was a warrior for exploited and abused children, persons with mental illness, and young people in need of support.”
One evening after she had completed her shift, she was driving home on Dulaney Valley Road when she spotted a little boy, Lafayette Cunningham, running away from the Villa Maria School, which provides service for children who are suffering from emotional, behavioral or learning issues.
“She stopped and asked where he was going and he said he wanted to go home and be with his grandmother. She took him back to Villa Maria and became his mentor,” said a sister, Susan Hahn of Towson.
“I was 6 years old and she became my mentor and godmother, and for the last 19 years I have been part of her family,” Mr. Cunningham said.
“She took me back to the school and when she returned, they told her she could pick any other kid, and with that big smile of hers, she said, ‘I don’t want any other kid, I want him.’ She had no kids and I became her only child. She was so selfless,” he said.
“She showed me love and taught me how to be a man, the value of dollars, and how to keep a job,” said Mr. Lafayette, an East Baltimore resident who is now a security officer at T. Rowe Price. “She was a big believer in me and always encouraged me. It was God’s plan and that’s why heaven sent her to me on Dulaney Valley Road.”
Col. Ward and Mr. Lafayette spoke and texted every day.
“It was very hard to watch when she became sick, but she said, ’I go where God needs me,‘” he said. “I was a pallbearer at her funeral. I know it’s hard, but nothing is lost when you know where it’s at.”
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Col. Ward enjoyed boating and crabbing with her nieces and nephews, and riding the bike trail in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She was also an avid reader who read several books a week.
“She had the ability to listen and connect people to the resources they needed,” said her wife of 11 years, Adrienne True, a retired medical salesperson, and partner of 22 years. “She was also a person who was magnanimous with her time.”
She was a member of the Maryland Presbyterian Church.
“There’ll never be another like Kim,” Maj. Johnson said.
Services were held Aug. 11 at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
In addition to her wife and sister, Col. Ward is survived by three brothers, Robert M. Ward of Northeast, Gregory Ward of Perry Hall and Daniel Ward of Ocean City; another sister, Mary Lisa Kay of Glen Arm; and many nieces and nephews.