A pioneer in rheumatology dies

A pioneer in rheumatology research and a leader to U students for more than three decades died Monday at the age of 80.

John Robert Ward was “truly a pioneer” in the field, according to Dan Clegg, U professor of medicine and Chief of Rheumatology.

Ward died of natural causes at University Hospital, the very facility where he had treated patients, taught medical students and headed the rheumatology program for more than 35 years.

“Dr. Ward was a remarkable mentor to medical students. He really taught students how to interact with patients, how to interview them and give exams. He had a personal interest in helping students and patients,” Clegg said.

Ward founded the U’s medical school’s Division of Rheumatology in the department of internal medicine in 1957, and headed it through 1988.

“John Ward built the U medical school’s rheumatology division into an internationally recognized program,” said Lorris Betz, U senior vice president for health sciences.

“As grateful as we are for his role as one of our school’s pioneering and committed leaders, we are equally enriched by his legacy as a gifted teacher and a caring, compassionate physician dedicated to easing the suffering of thousands of patients with arthritis and other disabling diseases.”

Ward began his work in the early 1950s and by the late 1970s he founded and directed a multi-institutional center for clinical drug studies funded by the National Institute of Health. His work coordinated the trials for clinics across the country and helped create a major drug for arthritis.

Along with the anti-arthritis drug, Ward was the author of some 250 scientific papers, book chapters and books, and served on the editorial boards of the most prestigious journals in the fields of arthritis and rheumatism.

He was also recognized with several awards including Outstanding Professor (1970) and Professor of the Year (1974).

“As a mentor, he would look for ways to allows help trainees and junior faculty to shine and succeed,” Clegg said.

“He had the ability to step back and let trainees do things on their own, and make them feel as though they had done it on their own, but was a safety net so that they would always do well.”

Other awards included Man of the Year (1983) by the Utah Arthritis Foundation, and the Distinguished Rheumatology Award (1994), among the highest awards in his field. He also received the Laureate Award (1990) by the American College of Physicians for his abiding commitment to excellence in medical care, education and research, and his service to the community.

Ward earned his bachelor’s degree from the U in 1944 and his M.D. in 1946-in the fourth class of graduates from the medical school’s fledgling four-year program. He served his residency at Salt Lake County General Hospital, where he also served fellowships in physiology and internal medicine. It was at that hospital that he met Norma Harris, his wife of 56 years. She was the night supervisor at the county hospital at the time and a 1946 graduate of the U College of Nursing.

From 1951 to 1953 Ward was on active duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, then joined the U medical school faculty as an instructor. From 1955 to 1957 he served a fellowship in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a clinical fellowship in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

In 1967, while on sabbatical from the U, he earned his Master’s of Public Health degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

Ward is survived by his wife, Norma; four children: John H. Ward, M.D. (Connie), Pamela Ward Proctor, R.N. (Lane), R. Scott Ward, Ph.D., P.T. (Diane), all Salt Lake City, and James Alan Ward (Laura), Huson, Mont. Ward is survived by 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled Friday, Nov. 5, at 11 a.m., at the Winder Eighth Ward, 1361 East 4000 South.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the John R. Ward Memorial Fund at the U’s Health Sciences Center.

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