North Carolina lost a huge contributor to its sports community this week with the death of former Fayetteville Observer editor Howard Ward, who died at the age of 84.
Ward spent 41 years working at the Observer, with 27 of them as spent as sports editor. In his time leading the department, he hired a core of reporters who would shape the award-winning section for many years to come.
Sammy Batten, who retired last year, is one of those reporters.
“I can say without a doubt he changed my life,” Batten said of Ward.
“He was always a pleasure to be around, always willing to do whatever he could to help you. Howard was so well-respected, especially in the golf community.
“I don’t know if I ever heard Howard say a cross word to anybody. He was just that kind of person.”
Batten also pointed out Ward’s hiring of former Observer reporter Kim Hasty to cover a wildly popular ACC sports beat at a time when there weren’t many women on the sidelines.
“He had the guts to hire her right out of college and she’s one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever been around,” Batten said.
Thomas Pope, Earl Vaughan Jr., Thad Mumau, Brett Friedlander, Sonny Jones, Jim Pettit, Eddie Southards and Scott Keepfer were also among Ward’s hires.
“He gave me a chance when I was a high school part-timer and it turned into a career that lasted 41 years,” said Pope, who retired as Observer sports editor in 2019.
“There’s no telling what in the world my life would be like if I hadn’t gotten that chance thanks to Howard.”
Ward began his Observer career as a printer’s apprentice before moving to the newsroom at the nudging of then-sports editor Ed Seaman.
“This was at the beginning of the 1966 Major League Baseball season, and the Yankees were searching for a replacement for the recently retired Mickey Mantle. I wrote a few paragraphs in longhand on the subject and gave it to Ed. ‘This is good,’ he said. ‘The next time I have an opening, why don’t you apply for the job?,’ ” Ward said in his acceptance speech during his Fayetteville Sports Club Hall of Fame induction in 2016.
Ward got the job, and wound up covering the Masters 22 times and the U.S. Open seven times, retiring in 1997 and then working as a golf writer for The Pilot in Southern Pines.
He became one of few writers inducted into the Carolinas Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2011.
Just over a week into his tenure at the Observer, Batten was sent off to Arizona to cover NC State football playing in what was then the Copper Bowl.
One of Pope’s early assignments was a Michigan State vs. UNC basketball game in which Magic Johnson played.
“He always gave me opportunities,” Pope said of Ward.
“He was easy-going, got along well with everyone, a really good guy to work for because he trusted you to do your job.”
Batten, who loves to tell the story of his hiring by Ward over a sandwich from the Bar-B-Que Hut as opposed to the standard steakhouse fare, added the moniker that his first Observer editor earned from a time when the newspaper offices were downtown.
“As long we’re around, people will be hearing about ‘Hay Street Howie.’ ”
Funeral services will be Tuesday at St. Matthews United Methodist Church on Hope Mills Road. Visitation will be at 1 p.m. and the service at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
Fayetteville Observer sports editor Monica Holland can be reached at [email protected]
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