Pat Ward says the best decision she ever made brought her into the lives of people experiencing their worst moments.
She recently retired as a volunteer chaplain with the Mukilteo Police Department. Ward has also served with the Everett and Lake Stevens fire departments, in all, completing 16 years in a chaplaincy role.
Day and night, she was called out to offer comfort to families after homicides, suicides, fires, accidents and deaths from natural causes. She attended funerals for three young people killed in a 2016 shooting at a Mukilteo party.
“You cannot replace Pat Ward,” Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang said in a statement before a Feb. 21 reception in Ward’s honor at Mukilteo City Hall. “Her absence will leave an irreplaceable void.” Even so, Kang added, he’s happy the longtime chaplain has more time to spend with family.
She’s already doing that. After retiring Feb. 1, she moved east of the mountains to Ellensburg. Her son Jon Ward, who teaches in Central Washington University’s film program, lives there with his wife and two children. Her grandson is 12 and her granddaughter is 14.
Jon Ward is also a member of the Kittitas Valley Healthcare board of commissioners, but his mother said she’s in no hurry to consider becoming a hospital chaplain.
“I am truly truly retired,” said Pat Ward, who doesn’t share her age.
Ward believes her impulse to ease the pain of others was born of her own losses. She and her late husband, William “Bill” Ward, were young parents living in the Echo Lake area of Shoreline when their firstborn son, 2½-year-old Michael, drowned.
It was a cold February day in 1963, but in 57 years the awful details of that day haven’t faded. She remembers a sheriff walking toward her to deliver the worst news after her child wandered off and was found in the lake.
And 11 years ago, in 2009, another son died of a brain aneurysm. He was 47.
“I think it made me a better chaplain,” said Ward. She didn’t often share her own grief with the people she met as a chaplain, but said “every once in awhile — it gives me compassion.”
Her empathy also grew from years of working in the funeral industry.
“We made it easier for grieving families,” she said. After leaving that job, “I really, truly missed it.”
It took more than personal experience for Ward to step into the role of chaplain, which she said is “the best decision I ever made.”
In 2004, she graduated from a chaplains’ academy program offered at the state Criminal Justice Training Commission’s center in Burien. She also qualified for membership in the International Conference of Police Chaplains.
After leaving the funeral business, Ward’s interest in becoming a chaplain was sparked when she attended a talk by Jack Geer. A longtime friend of hers, in retirement Geer was a chaplain at the Snohomish County Jail. The Everett man, who died in 2015, was involved with King’s Garden, which grew into Crista Ministries and King’s Schools in Shoreline.
Herald readers have met Ward before. In 2017, her story of survival was featured in a front-page article by Sara Bruestle.
Ward was out for breakfast with friends at Jimmy Jacks, a south Everett restaurant, when she suffered an aortic dissection, a tear in the largest artery of the body. The help of Heidi McCown, a server at the restaurant who performed CPR, and a seven-hour surgery saved Ward’s life.
It was the same heart condition that killed actor Jon Ritter in 2003.
Bob Johnson, Ward’s boyfriend, was there that Saturday morning when Ward collapsed. He and another friend made the quick decision to call to 911. Today, Ward and Johnson share a home in Ellensburg — “I think I’m in heaven, I’ve been here seven days,” she said last week.
“I’m doing well,” Ward said. “I’m so blessed to have survived.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.