Thomas H. Ward, longtime city judge and former council member, dies

Thomas H. Ward was a retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge who ended a lengthy career as an outspoken chairman of the city's Liquor Board.
Thomas H. Ward was a retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge who ended a lengthy career as an outspoken chairman of the city's Liquor Board. (JED KIRSCHBAUM / Baltimore Sun)

Thomas H. Ward, a retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge who ended a lengthy career as an outspoken chairman of the city's Liquor Board, died Sunday at his Bolton Hill home. He was 89.

Family members said he had been hospitalized recently. They said no cause of death had been determined.


Judge Ward served a term in the Baltimore City Council in the mid-1960s. Friends said he championed unpopular positions and cast the lone vote against an interstate highway planned to cut across Baltimore and its neighborhoods. He also composed a successful suit that helped preserve the Fells Point National Register of Historic Places district.

"Tom never followed the flow. He created it," said former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a close friend. "We differed on a number of issues, but there was never a question about his honesty or integrity."


Born in Baltimore and raised on Brookwood Road in West Baltimore, he was the son of Thomas J. Ward, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad terminals supervisor, and Louise Dietz, a homemaker.

In a 2012 article in The Baltimore Sun, he recalled delivering newspapers in Windsor Hills, making $2.40 a week. The last house on his daily route was a secluded parcel in Gwynns Falls Park. "I was hoping they would stop taking the paper, but it never happened," he said.

He joined the Army after his 1945 graduation from Valley Forge Military Academy. Trained as a glider paratrooper, he was on a ship bound for Japan as World War II came to a close. He remained in Japan for the occupation and was recalled to the service during the Korean War.

In 1950, he earned a bachelor's degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He then graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1953. A Baltimore Sun reporter for three years in the early 1950s, he also worked for the B&O Railroad, Railway Express Agency and Acme stores. He said that at one time, he paid dues at the Newspaper Guild, the Meatcutters and Shipbuilders unions.

He initially practiced law in an old Linden Avenue mansion that had been the home of Maryland Gov. Edwin Warfield. When city officials claimed the property for urban renewal, he resisted its condemnation and lost.

He soon became a critic of numerous urban issues. In an autobiographical sketch, he wrote that he filed suits, at his own expense, that defended preservation of Druid Hill Park and Eutaw Place.

"Baltimore must resort to mass transportation for a solution to its conveyance problems and restore the pedestrian and bus riders to a first-class citizenship," he wrote in 1962. "Inner Baltimore must cease being used as a convenience parking lot for county dwellers."

He was a past president of the Mount Royal Democratic Club, where he was active for decades and presided at meetings in the 5th Regiment Armory. He was an outspoken supporter of the U.S. role in the Vietnam War, a position that cost him support among liberal residents. Friends said he flew a U.S. flag from his home and supported the National Rifle Association.

"He was not a hater. He never, ever discriminated against anyone on the basis of color or religion," said Mr. Lapides.

Judge Ward's opposition to what was called the East-West Expressway resulted in a lone vote against the planned highway in 1967, when he was serving on the City Council. In a 1965 Sun article, he predicted the highway would raze housing for 2,200 families and claim 76 acres in Leakin and Gwynns Falls parks. He said the expressway would "cause unparalleled harm."

He went on to be a founder of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, and composed a lawsuit to protect those neighborhoods.

He practiced law on 36th Street in Hampden after his Linden Avenue office was seized and torn down.


He was elected to the Baltimore Circuit Court in 1982, when he ran against sitting judges. He retired in 1997 but continued to hear cases.

Judge Ward became the subject of media attention in 2007 at age 80 when, while walking near his home, he heard someone calling, "Police, police." He tackled a 40-year-old, 6-foot-tall burglary suspect and restrained him until police arrived.

In 2014, then-Gov. Martin O'Malley named him chairman of the Baltimore City Liquor Board.

"For those who despaired that Baltimore's chronically dysfunctional and highly political liquor board was owned lock, stock and beer barrel by the industry and that reversing the damage the board's lax approach to enforcement has done to neighborhoods was a pipe dream, we give you the 87-year-old cure to this particular disease: Judge Thomas Ward," said a 2015 Sun editorial.

"Since taking over as head of the liquor board, he's established that there's a new sheriff in town — one who takes violations of liquor laws seriously and doesn't simply accommodate liquor licensees," The Sun wrote. He was quoted telling a Fells Point license holder: "'Somewhere along the line, you've gotten the idea that you can do what you want. ... You can't.'"

A passionate student of history — particularly, his city's — Judge Ward donated nearly $70,000 to stabilize and preserve the Irish Immigrant Workers Home, an 1848 Lemmon Street residence-museum.

He enjoyed weekends on a farm on the Cheat River in West Virginia, where he kept a 1922 wooden B&O railroad caboose. He took history-themed tours to Revolutionary and Civil War sites and to the World War II battlefields of the South Pacific.

He kept a large library, read widely and never owned a television set.

His wife of 53 years, Joyce McCartney, who also worked in historic preservation, died in 2011.

A funeral Mass for Judge Ward will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, 110 W. Lafayette Ave.

Survivors include a son, Patrick Ward of Baltimore; three daughters, Kathleen Dragovich of Columbia, Tracy Ward of Royal Oak in Talbot County and Megan Carlson of Boring in Baltimore County; and four grandchildren.

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