Gilbert S. Ward

Published 8:39 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

TARBORO – Gilbert Shirley Ward, 95, passed away April 10, 2014, at The Fountains at the Albemarle in Tarboro, NC after living a very interesting and event filled life. He maintained his independent lifestyle at the facility almost until the end of his life. His strong Christian faith was an abiding source of strength for him. He was a member of the Robersonville United Methodist Church.

Born November 29, 1918 on a farm in Eagletown, a Quaker community near Rich Square, NC, he was the son of the late Will and Hattie E. Ward. Gilbert was preceded in death by his wife Muriel (Ginger) Brehm Ward of Sarasota and his son Gilbert (Chip) Taylor Ward of Sarasota as well as his brothers and sisters: Mable W. Wolff (William), Marion W. Beach (Mack), Esther W. Lassiter (Atlas), Bill Ward (Grace), Beecher Ward, George Taylor Ward (Lucille) and Robert Ward (Charlotte).

He is survived by nieces and nephews: Libby Ward Jenkins (David) of Robersonville, NC; Al Ward (Cheryl) of Raleigh, NC; Rob Ward of Chesapeake, VA; Judy Wolff Wright (Wayne) of Harmony, NC; Betsy Wolff Moser of Greensboro, NC; Peggy Wolff Lemmon of Asheboro, NC; and Terry Wolff (Linda) of Carson, NM; his brothers-in-law, Arthur Richart of Sarasota, FL and Russell Brehm (Eve) of California; and many grand and great-grand nieces and nephews.

A memorial service was held to honor Gilbert S. Ward on Sunday, April 13, 2014 at The Fountains at the Albemarle, 200 Trade St., Tarboro, NC.

An additional memorial service will be held in Sarasota, FL, to be arranged at a later date. To honor Gilbert’s wishes and in lieu of flowers, memorials should be directed to Robersonville, United Methodist Church, 2895 Robert Everett Road, Robersonville, NC 27871.

Gilbert had a gracious and humble manner about him, along with a genuine love and respect for each person he met, and he made many friends. He was of a generation that told stories for pleasure and he knew how to tell a story. He made a career of the U.S. Air Force and his posts in Italy, Austria, Norway, Guatemala, Paris and the Congo provided him with very interesting story material for his rural family.

He joined the U.S Army in 1938, starting out in the infantry in a mule drawn 30-caliber machine gun company. After a year he was asked if he wanted to transfer to the Army Air Corps (which became the U.S. Air Force in 1947). In his inimitable manner of speaking, he just said, “Yes.” His first posting was Boling Field, near Washington, DC where he met Ginger Brehm. They were married in 1942. Ginger and their son Chip were allowed to live with Gilbert overseas in Europe at the end of WW II.

In 1945, Gilbert served with the Army Air Corps in Italy and Austria. One of his stories is about having to retrieve Ginger and a friend who were being detained by the Russians for crossing over into the Russian Zone of Austria—a funny story.

In 1949, the U.S. Air Force assigned Gilbert to the office of the Air Attaché of the American Embassy in Oslo, Norway. He spent the rest of his career in various embassy assignments in Paris, Guatemala, the Congo and Chad. When he posted stateside between foreign assignments, he worked at the Pentagon in Washington. Also during stateside postings, he was sent to school to learn new skills for his foreign assignments.

In 1960, while posted at the U.S. Embassy in the Congo, Ginger and Chip were on the wrong side of the Congo River when the Congo Civil War (1960-64) broke out. Gilbert told a “thriller” adventure story of helping Ginger and Chip get back across the Congo River by speed boat (the engine went out half way across) to an impatiently waiting pilot who was evacuating embassy families.

It was always a special event and a treat for the Ward family when Gilbert and Ginger were visiting his farm home. He and Ginger would recount their adventures and show slides of the beautiful sites and people in the countries they visited.

Gilbert was a good representative of the Christian faith wherever he was posted, a personality trait which helped in his diplomatic duties. Apparently due to that trait, after retiring from the Air Force in 1968, he decided to attend a seminary to be trained as a pastor. He attended Local Pastor Seminary School Training at Boston University School of Theology and Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. He was ordained a United Methodist minister and became a pastor of a church in New York and later in Florida.

In 1979, Gilbert and Ginger moved to Sarasota, Florida, where he played a leadership role at a charismatic Episcopal church and was active with a prison ministry. He became part of the Sarasota Annual Community Prayer Breakfast and the Mayor’s Feed the Hungary, Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida Initiative; at 90, he was still active in those activities.

Ginger died in 2008. In late 2008, though having lived in Sarasota for 30 years, Gilbert moved to the Fountains of the Albemarle to be near his remaining family. He kept his condo in Sarasota for several years and visited when he could.

While in Tarboro, Gilbert missed Ginger, his work with the Prayer Breakfast and with Feed the Hungary, as well as being with his many friends in Sarasota; but, as he developed relationships and became friends with residents at the Fountains, the pain of the move became less.

After coming to the Fountains of the Albemarle (at 90 years old) Gilbert, as the 2009 representative of the Sarasota Prayer Breakfast, flew to Washington, DC to attend the by-invitation-only National Prayer Breakfast. He was accompanied by his niece Libby. They listened to many speakers (including President Obama) suggesting ways to achieve a more peaceful world and praying for that future.

In 2010, Gilbert, his nephew Al, his grand-nephew Eric, and his great-grand nephew Elliott spent four days and three nights at Disney World—the four generation Ward musketeers. Gilbert used a Disney World scooter to keep up with the pace and he later showed them the highlights of Sarasota. It was a great time.

Libby and David Jenkins (and sons Jonathan and Justin), Gilbert’s main family support while at the Fountains at the Albemarle, and the rest of his family, wish to thank the staff who provided support and a great environment for Gilbert in his final years.