Atascadero community leader and veterans advocate Chuck Ward dies

Chuck Ward, photographed in September 2014 while running for city office in Atascadero, died Friday, March 3, 2017.
Chuck Ward, photographed in September 2014 while running for city office in Atascadero, died Friday, March 3, 2017. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Chuck Ward, an Atascadero man known for his vibrant community spirit and avid support for fellow veterans, died Friday.

He was 82.

“He was just, you know, a powerful, dynamic, very good person who worked hard for veterans,” said his sister Cynthia Whitney Ward, 75, of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “He’s probably working hard for them wherever he is now.”

Ward grew up outside of Boston and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied chemical engineering, said his son Whitney Ward, 43.

But one of Ward’s passions that he carried with him even after retirement was his work with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a first lieutenant, his sister said, and dedicated much of his later life to working for veterans.

For a while, Ward lived in San Francisco while he worked for an international trading company. After he retired, he eventually relocated to Atascadero, a town that benefited from Ward’s activism.

In early 2015, Ward helped initiate the designation of Highway 101 as a National Purple Heart Trail, something that he and other local volunteers spent years lobbying the California Legislature to establish.

“Atascadero is very patriotic,” Ward said at the time. “We have things here that will cause people to pull off the highway and spend some time in this city.”

Ward was also instrumental in creating the Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial, which was constructed at Atascadero Lake Park in 2006.

Most recently, Ward petitioned for a 6-foot likeness of the late Charles Paddock, the San Luis Obispo County park ranger who founded Atascadero’s Charles Paddock Zoo, to be erected at the zoo. It was another community effort that succeeded: The statue not only honors Paddock, but also his son, Michael Paddock, a U.S. Marine who died fighting in the Vietnam War.

“I often think if you looked up the word ‘tenacious’ in a dictionary, you’d find a photo of Chuck Ward,” Tribune columnist Lon Allan wrote in 2014 regarding Ward’s determination to create the statue. “He approaches every endeavor with a can-do attitude and rarely takes no for the final answer.”

A former Atascadero planning commissioner, Ward briefly entertained a stint in politics. He ran for Atascadero City Council in 2010 and 2014, though he did not win either race.

Despite his veteran and political engagements, Ward always made sure to set aside time for his family. For the past two years, he acted as a caretaker for his wife, whom he had been married to for 52 years, Cynthia Whitney Ward said.

“Absolutely wonderful, wonderful, wonderful father,” said his son, who moved to Paso Robles to be closer to his parents. “I can’t say enough about him as a dad and about how blessed I was and am.”

Cynthia Whitney Ward said a memorial would be held for her brother, probably within the next two weeks.

“Hopefully it’ll be a big shebang. My father didn’t shy away from positive attention for himself,” his son said. “I think he’d get a big kick out of it.”

Megan Henney: 805-781-7915, @megan_henney