Former Cary councilman Jessie Ward led American Legion post

Religious leader was Cary’s only recently elected black

akenney@newsobserver.comSeptember 12, 2012 

— Former Town Councilman Jessie Ward died late last month at age 66. Ward was a religious leader, a naval veteran, and the only black elected official in the town’s recent history.

Mayor Harold Weinbrecht was among those who honored Ward at a funeral service Saturday at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where Ward was a deacon.

Ward, often known as “Jess,” was a strongly religious man who grew up in Orange County, Fla., with 13 siblings, his wife, Sheila, said. They met at Talladega College, a historically black institution in Alabama, about 40 years ago.

“He was a big man, but he was so gentle, the way he would talk,” said Sheila Ward, 64. “We used to hold hands. It was just his manner that really attracted me.”

The couple arrived in Cary in the early 1990s, after Jess Ward had finished his service in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant and started a career in business sales. Within a few years he had launched a business venture and a political career.

Ward, a Republican, served on the Cary Town Council from 1997 to 2001, launching from a campaign that called for “empowering people, not government.”

At the same time, he was establishing Forward Enterprises, a nonprofit consulting firm that focused on affordable housing. He called for “balanced growth” in his 2001 campaign for council. During his tenure, he played a budget hawk, often voting against what he saw as “pet projects.”

“He was very proud of the fact that he was able to hold that position and work with others to make conditions better for everyone – African-Americans, everyone,” said Sheila Ward, a retired Wake County school system psychologist.

‘Short and to the point’

Ward also brought a deep religious conviction to the service, even inviting a choir to one council meeting, Weinbrecht recalled. On politics, Weinbrecht said, Ward “was short and to the point.”

“He would tell you exactly what he wanted,” Weinbrecht said. “He didn’t waver any – he told you where he was coming from.”

Ward later became commander of the American Legion’s Cary Post 67 from 2004 to 2006. He also was co-founder of Parents Coalition for Excellence, which was “a support group for parents of African-American students of Cary High School,” according to Ward’s obituary.

Ward also was remembered at Town Hall for his leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, when he rallied help for the town of Princeville. The former councilman was a graduate of Talladega College and of Texas Southern University, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration, his obituary stated.

Ward grew ill with heart conditions in his final years, his wife said. He is survived also by his daughters Michele, 34, and Jessica, 39. His four grandchildren called him “Papa Jess.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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