A Life: Tom Ward ‘was always pushing the rules’

  • Tom Ward takes part in a ceremonial crab feast on the Chesapeake Bay after spreading his father's ashes in an undated photograph. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • Tom Ward as a boy in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

  • Tom Ward cracks a joke while taking a break in the midst in moving his mother out of her house in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/10/2019 9:46:12 PM
Modified: 11/11/2019 9:41:36 PM

SHARON — Tom Ward was easy to spot around his hometown of Sharon and throughout the Upper Valley.

If you passed a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt, checkered pants and mismatched rubber boots, it was likely him. Or, perhaps you saw him on the day he wore yellow pants, blue suspenders and a flannel shirt with moon boots.

“He looked like he rolled out of a circus barn every day,” said Ward’s only child, Julia Eddy.

Ward, who died in a tree-trimming accident on July 4, 2019, at the age of 64, didn’t mind what people thought. His clothing choices were just an outward reflection of his unconventional lifestyle, his friends and family say.

Eddy said that when she first heard the term “free spirit” she had an aha moment.

“It perfectly encapsulated everything that had perplexed me about my father to that point,” she said. “Why do you never cut your hair? Why do you dress like you rolled out of a circus barn? Why do you have the music up so loud? Why did you come home today with ginger cookies, some freshly hatched guinea fowl, and another broken lawnmower (making the grand total something like 15)? All of a sudden I saw those questions and his eccentricities as what made him beautiful.”

Ward grew up on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and even then he didn’t care much about what he was supposed to do, said his brother, Jerry Ward, who lives in Randolph Center.

“He’s a bit on the wild side,” Ward said. Tom experimented with drugs and taught himself to drive well before he was of legal age.

“He was always pushing the rules,” said Jerry Ward.

Ward was a huge Grateful Dead fan, and had seen them in concert many times, said longtime friend John Peck, of Sharon.

“He was going to concerts when he was a kid, 12 years old,” Peck said. “When people up here didn’t know what concerts were.”

As a young man, Ward moved to Sharon, where his mother and grandmother had property. He met his longtime partner Wendy Eddy and built a house on the family plot, where the couple raised Julia.

Still, having a family didn’t prompt Ward to settle down. He never held a traditional job, although he helped friends with painting or window washing occasionally. He became interested in antiques, although he did much more buying than selling.

Toni Maxham, owner of Colonial Plaza Antiques in West Lebanon, said she saw Ward almost every day for more than 16 years.

“Once in a while when he didn’t show up, we always wondered where Tom was,” she said.

He would stay a while in the store, entertaining employees and customers with his tales of going to the scrapyard in Wilder.

“He would come in and show us his treasures,” Maxham said.

One day, Ward came in with burrs in his hair, which was usually disheveled. He explained he had been gardening, and asked Maxham and the other women in the shop how to remove them. They told him the only way was to cut the burrs out.

“The next day he had cut the burrs out of his hairs, but his hair was … he had done it himself,” Maxham said with a laugh.

Despite his idiosyncrasies, people who saw Ward regularly knew that they could count on him.

“He was always there to give a hand any time I needed him at the store or customers needed help lugging to the car,” Maxham said.

Peck, who has a window cleaning business, knew Ward was always available for last-minute jobs, motivated by the camaraderie, not the money. Other workers might be scared of heights or precarious perches, but Ward had strength and balance that made it look easy.

“He was catlike, the way he would move,” Peck said.

Shortly before Ward’s death, Peck came home to a bundle of fresh corn on his porch. He and others in the neighborhood were used to finding gifts from their friend.

“There was never any note. You just knew it was Tom,” Peck said.

Once, Ward learned about a woman who was living out of her car. He made it a habit of stopping in to bring her a newspaper and a doughnut or just to share a conversation.

“He just took care of people that way,” Peck said.

It was easy, in a way, because Ward could talk to anyone.

“He would drive up with the music blaring and jump out telling a story as if you’d already been talking for 10 minutes,” Julia Eddy said.

Although Ward was a character to many, his loved ones knew him as a kind, compassionate and complex man.

“I considered him a really good friend. When you have a friend who really knows you, and then you lose him, it’s a big loss,” Peck said. “We actually knew each others lives, quirks and problems.”

In Ward’s later years, those problems increasingly involved hoarding.

“He had made this transformation from someone who liked to collect things to a hoarder,” his brother said.

Julia Eddy, who has taken leave from her job in Washington, D.C., and temporarily moved to Vermont to sort through her father’s property after his death, said even this was motivated by Ward’s desire to care for others.

“He didn’t want people to be without,” she said. “He was always thinking ‘I’ve got a thing,’ or ‘I could acquire a thing that could help people out.’ ”

One of their last visits before he died was on Eddy’s birthday. She mentioned that she wanted a hamburger, so Ward cooked one on an old wood stove that he had set up in his yard, “much to the chagrin of the fire department,” Eddy said.

“It was the worst burger I’ve ever eaten, but I appreciated that he whipped it up,” Eddy said.

“That’s the type of person he was. He was reckless in a way, but amazing.”

Although growing up with such an eccentric father wasn’t always easy, Eddy said that she has realized how much he meant to his friends, and to the community.

“People see him as this fun, generous, colorful spirit,” she said. “A real town character who will be missed.”

Kelly Burch can be reached at burchcreative@gmail.com.

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