071316_KarenWard

Karen Ward

Yes, the late Karen Ward of St. Simons Island, was the daughter of NFL great Jim Brown — considered by many as the greatest football player in NFL history.

Ward, 58, who died earlier this month, was also the descendent of Tom Floyd, one of the last African slaves to be brought to America. Both men strongly influenced her life, but she also chose her own path — devoted in large part to spreading the knowledge of history in the St. Simons Island area, especially African Americans and their role in it.

Ward also served on the Islands Planning Commission, which offers advice to the Glynn County Commission on planning and zoning matters on St. Simons Island. She was appointed as chairman by Glynn County Commissioner Bob Coleman in January 2015 and continued in that role until her death.

Ward also served as the vice president of the Friends of Harrington School Board of Directors — an organization dedicated to restoring a historic African-American schoolhouse on South Harrington Road for use as an African-American cultural center. Unfortunately, Ward did not live to see the project’s completion.

Patricia Deveau, the president of the Harrington School board, said Ward’s advice will be missed as the work on the school continues. Tours and exhibits will be planned to share the stories of the island’s African-American heritage. Ward grew up in New York City, where she worked as a community activist before returning to her father’s home of St. Simons.

Last week, Deveau told The Brunswick News that Ward “brought with her determination, organizational skills and, yes, even outspoken New Yorker frankness that was critically needed to save African-American heritage and island home places.”

Ward worked on the Islands Planning Commission with that same kind of tenacity involving issues facing St. Simons and Sea islands. Stan Humphries, a friend and a commission member, says she successfully encouraged the members to change direction in positive ways on key issues they were considering.

As an African American, Ward could bring a different and vital perspective to the planning commission in ever-evolving St. Simons and Sea Islands. Her term was to end Dec. 31, and a successor who could echo that perspective must be sought. She will be impossible to replace, but someone who echoes her values and the unique perspective she brought to the body are a must.

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