Bob Ward is topped with a green hat by Mayor Tim Bourcy, as wife Karen, (right) and assistant Michelle look on. Bob’s smile isn’t quite as big as that of ‘Embezzlement Bob” in the framed photo. Jeff Brady

Boa, friendly barbs for Bob Ward’s finale

With his mother, sister and more than 100 Skagway residents in attendance, Bob Ward was dressed up and given a proper send-off at a dinner at the Elks last weekend.
While there was a good deal of roasting, most who stood up praised the former city manager and tourism director, who officially retires from the City of Skagway today.
It was St. Patrick’s Day, and Mayor Tim Bourcy started things by placing a green ladies hat and boa on Ward, who wore it at the head table for much of the evening.
Before him was a photo of “Embezzlement Bob,” a character he played at a Halloween party after a particularly difficult year in the Skagway rumor mill. Ward had bleached his hair, which went from blonde to apple red, and painted fake tanning lotion on his arms, which bulged from an island shirt with Monopoly money coming out of every pocket.
Ward said he had sent the photo with an application to a retirement home and was refused for looking too young. Bourcy quipped that he looked more like “Botox Bob.”
Ward said the first rumor he had to deal with as tourism director was that cruise ships would stop coming. More recently, as city manager, he said he had to address a rumor that designating the Chilkoot Trail as a World Heritage Site would close the Dyea Road. And then there were the rumors he was sleeping with everyone at City Hall, and other “scandals” that were just as outrageous.
He said it had been an “up and down 25 years” but that there were a lot of shoulders in the room that held him up.
Ward said that along with city employees, he had invited a lot of special people who had helped him over the past 25 years. After he first arrived in 1982, seniors Bill Hunz, Alvin Gordon and Bud Matthews stood behind him, he said. Despite many professional disagreements, Jan Wrentmore was there as a friend, he added. He also thanked Jim Jewell for a night on his couch, and John and Jan Tronrud for giving him a room after his “back went out” and he couldn’t make it home to his boat. He thanked Boyd and Jean Worley for the faxes from the border on “everything Yukon.” He credited Bourcy for making it from bartender, to speechless candidate, to mayor and president of the Alaska Municipal League. “He drove the bus (on borough formation),” Ward said.
Ward and his wife Karen will be taking their boat south soon, stopping in many places on the way. He said they will eventually settle in a place where she can be near horses and he can tinker with cars and boats.
“Integrity” was the word many used in describing Ward.
To Ward’s mother, Bourcy said, “You have raised a wonderful child. He has done things for this community and laid himself on the road.”
Wrentmore called Ward, “the liver of Skagway. Sooner or later, everything gets filtered through him.” Then she joked, “So if it looks toxic, you’ll know why.”
Boyd Worley chimed that “a lot of people are here to make sure you leave,” but added Ward had been great to work with on federal issues. Lynne Cameron and John Warder said Ward also had been instrumental in getting the new clinic underway, and CVB director Buckwheat Donahue said Ward had been “an important man in my life... I’m sure going to miss you.”
Finally, in presenting Ward with a painting (boats, of course)
from the City Hall staff, Michelle Calver said, “If Bob has a fault, it’s being too good of a person. No one could ask for a better boss.”


Farewell to the best

Several years ago, before Bob Ward returned to Skagway, we rubbed him a little the wrong way when we said another tourism director had been more popular. It was a shameless bit of arrogance on our part, but Bob didn’t let it bother him. He never was out to win a popularity contest, just to do the best job he could.
Bob was brought back to Skagway to clean up a mess and restore dignity to a tourism department and city that had been embarrassed by a true scandal: theft from the city treasury. Bob quickly and impressively brought back trust in government and the way Skagway conducted business, and then rose to take the reins of city manager for the past dozen years.
Skagway will probably never know a better communicator in government than Bob Ward. A read of his tourism and city manager reports gave a clear understanding of what lay before the decision makers: pros and cons, often with a touch of wry humor. The council didn’t always take his advice, and sometimes they regretted it. Bob himself was not immune to mistakes, and he owned up to them. From our standpoint, he always answered our questions without dancing around the issue. He could be trusted to tell you the facts.
So, pardon us for a bit of shameless arrogance. And this time, it’s no popularity contest. Bob Ward was the best city manager Skagway has ever had. – WJB