In 2006, about a year after we moved to Richmond, Gerry, my wife, while reading the Richmond Times Dispatch, inquired if I had read the book George Washington’s Enforcers. I had and thought that it was a wonderful book exploring a hidden aspect of the American Revolution. She then told me that Harry M Ward, the author, would be discussing his work at a local book store on the following Sunday.
I had read not only that one, but a number of others by Dr Ward and, knowing that he was from Richmond, was curious to meet him. On that day, I collected a small stack of his volumes, in hopes that he might inscribe them, and headed off to Book People. (Harry later told me that he never knew what to write when someone asked him to sign a book!) I expected a large turnout. There wasn’t.
Lynn Sims, Jerry Rudd, and I were it. Harry’s friend Bernard brought him, but is a self admitted non-history guy. I expected Dr. Ward to monopolize the conversation. After a brief discussion about Enforcers, Harry steered the discussion in another direction. We spent time talking about our mutual interest in the revolution. Lynn and Harry had worked together during the bicentennial and Jerry was a former student. I would later meet many more of these folks and hear many fun stories about their teacher. I was the new kid on the block. Near the end of the time, Harry said “We need to form a round table.” He then pointed at me and said, “You do it.” To say the least, I was a bit shocked. But it sounded like neat idea. I told him that there were a few things that I needed to finish first and would be back to him in a few weeks. I often wonder if he thought that I would ever call back. But I did, and that was the start of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond.
Harry, Lynn, Jerry, and I, shortly after joined by Steve Atkinson, met a few times and laid out our plans. Ten years later, we’re a well respected and ever growing organization, number eight on the countrywide ARRT list of sixteen. So credit Harry with our conception.
Over the next few years, our relationship slowly changed. I went from being an admiring groupie of a distinguished historian to a close friend. Harry was very accepting and warm to me personally and provided much useful advice as the round table moved along. Our friendship grew stronger over the last ten years.
We didn’t always agree on the best approach to help ARRT-R grow. Harry wanted nothing to do with computers and didn’t accept the great publicity opportunities that they offered. He preferred the printed word, whether our white advertising cards that he had printed yearly or our one foray with an advertisement in The Richmond Times Dispatch. He personally paid for that ad, but wished to remain anonymous. I suspect that some members guessed who funded it. Harry constantly pushed for us to be bigger, to recruit more members. I think that he was pleased that we’re now up to eighty members.
He was my post-meeting sounding board. We usually spoke after each gathering to hear his opinion about the speaker. He often surprised me with what he enjoyed and what he didn’t. He was always honest, and we often disagreed. And he often needed to be reminded that not all had the same level of knowledge as he did. Harry was aware of the concern of satisfying and pleasing members with different levels of revolutionary expertise. I’ll miss his perceptive evaluations.
When we started ARRT-Richmond, Harry was adamant that he wanted no office. We created the position of Senior Advisor specifically for him. As our bylaws allow the board discretion in such appointment, we have decided to leave the position open. Hopefully, Harry will advise us in spirit.
Harry Ward was a prolific writer, an outstanding historian, a valued teacher, a bit of a curmudgeon, a funny guy, a generous man, a beer drinker, a thoughtful advisor, and a great friend. I know that many round table members had wonderful relationships with him and will miss him. I will, too. He leaves a void for all of us that will be impossible to fill.
Rest in peace, Harry, as we carry on in your memory.
October 17, 2016