The first time Patrick Smith met Principal Eric Ward was at the height of uncertainty in 2020 for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, caused by COVID-19.
Smith, the assistant superintendent of communications, was attending the drive-through diploma pick-up at Harding University High School last year. It was then that Smith saw firsthand the impact Ward, the school’s principal for the last six years, had on his students.
“For several hours, Eric danced to the music playing in the background and celebrated each student whose family drove through the line to pick up their diplomas,” Smith told the Observer on Thursday. “It was clear to see the deep bond Harding students and families had with Eric, and that has been a reminder since I learned of his passing about focusing on the impact we can have on the students we serve.”
Ward died Wednesday. He was 46. The cause of his death has not been shared publicly.
School leaders, colleagues and former students are remembering Ward for his sense of humor, leadership and being what many have called a “talented educator.”
“Principal Eric Ward, you will be terribly missed by so many,” wrote Elyse Dashew, the chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, on the Harding University High School Facebook page early Thursday morning. “What a powerful legacy you leave. #RamTough.”
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators (CMAE), wrote a lengthy post on its Facebook page, honoring Ward, who worked in CMS for more than two decades.
“He was well known for his supportive leadership and his sparkling sense of humor, and he will be missed by so many,” CMAE leadership wrote. “Our hearts and prayers go out to Dr. Ward’s wife and children, the Harding High, Olympic, West Mecklenburg, Wilson, and Independence community, and the many people whose lives Dr. Ward touched. Rest in Peace.”
Others called Ward a trailblazer, remembered for his kindness. A Harding High alum wrote: “We love you. Best principal ever.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Charlotte (also called UNC Charlotte), and also earned degrees from Gardner-Webb and Wingate universities.
Under the West Mecklenburg High School Graduates Facebook page, Brian Lawing wrote: “It is with a sad heart that I post news of the death of former West Mecklenburg Principal Eric Ward.
“This young educator has touched the lives of so many teachers and faculty, students, and student athletes in a remarkable career. I’ve known him since my track coaching days at West when he was also a math teacher and coach at Independence. Please pray for his family and all that knew and loved him.”
On Thursday, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston issued a statement sharing condolences from himself and the district for Ward’s wife, Sophia, and two children, Eric Jr. and Kabrea. Winston said: “We lost a great leader and person yesterday, but his legacy lives on in the staff he led and students and alumni whose lives he impacted during his nearly 25-year career in the district.”
The late principal “was revered by his students, colleagues and school partners. We will remember him for his student-centered approach to learning and passion to improve outcomes for students,” Winston wrote.