Death Claims John R. Ward, M.D., 80, Rheumatology Pioneer at U Medical School

Death Claims John R. Ward, M.D., 80, Rheumatology Pioneer at U Medical School

Nov 1, 2004 5:00 PM

John Robert Ward, 80, died of natural causes Monday, Nov. 1, at University of Utah Hospital, where he had treated patients, taught medical students, and headed the rheumatology program for more than 35 years.

Ward founded the medical school's Division of Rheumatology in the Department of Internal Medicine in 1957 and headed it through 1988, building one of the most respected academic rheumatology programs in the country. In just over 30 years, the U rheumatology division grew from a faculty of one to 11; its funded research from $50,000 to more than $2 million; and its caseload to more than 11,000 patients annually. He retired in 1993 as professor emeritus of internal medicine.

"John R. Ward built the U medical school's rheumatology division into an internationally recognized program," said A. Lorris Betz, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the U of U School of Medicine. "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."

When Ward began his career in rheumatology in the early 1950s, cortisone had just been discovered and showed promise. In his work as the founder and longtime director (1976-1983) of a multi-institutional center for clinical drug studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, he coordinated the trials for clinics across the country that helped establish the drug methotrexate as one of the treatments of choice for arthritis.

In tandem with his work on anti-arthritis drugs, 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 also was instrumental in the establishment of the Department of Preventive Medicine (now Family and Preventive Medicine) at the U medical school and served as chair of that department from 1966-1970.

Ward was an outstanding teacher and recipient of numerous awards, including Outstanding Professor (1970) and Professor of the Year (1974).

In 1994 Ward received the Distinguished Rheumatology Award from the American College of Rheumatology, one of his specialty's highest honors. He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians and received the Laureate Award of that organization's Utah chapter in 1990 for his abiding commitment to excellence in medical care, education, and research, and his service to the community. In 1983, he was named Man of the Year by the Utah Arthritis Foundation (an organization he was instrumental in founding).

Ward earned his bachelor's degree from the U of 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 and met his wife of 56 years, Norma Harris, the night supervisor at the county hospital and a 1946 graduate of the U of U College of Nursing.

From 1951-1953 he was on active duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, then joined the U medical school faculty as an instructor. From 1955-1957 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 University of Utah, he earned his Master of Public Health degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health.

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, Montana. He also leaves behind 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 University of Utah Health Sciences Center.

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