Alexander Statement on the Passing of John Ward

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John Ward, former voice of UT on their radio broadcasts

John Ward died Wednesday (6/20/2018) evening at the age of 88 after a lengthy illness. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) pays tribute to the legendary Tennessee broadcaster.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said, "When it came to UT sports, listening to John Ward was almost as good as watching the game. In fact, many Vol fans at many games brought their radios to make sure they could do both. John was a generous, courteous, enthusiastic ambassador for the University of Tennessee. He brought joy into our lives, and we will miss him."

Senator Alexander served as president of the University of Tennessee from 1988 to 1991.


Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame

In 2013 Ward was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. CLICK HERE to see the Hall of Fame video that tells about this beloved broadcaster's career.


UT website

The University of Tennessee's website shared many memories about John Ward.

The past 10-months have been filled with sorrow for Ward. On July 24, 2017 his wife of 55-years, Barbara Tallent Ward, was killed in a traffic crash in west Knoxville.

Ward held a law degree from UT, but he never practiced law. His dedication to UT sports showed in that he never missed a game in more than 350 consecutive football broadcasts, while calling nearly 1,000 hoops games. He served as the play-by-play voice for Tennessee basketball for 34 seasons (1965-1999) and for UT football from 1968 to 1998.

Watd's UT On-Air Career

He also appeared on the weekly coaches television shows for football (beginning in 1965) and for men's basketball (beginning in 1963), working with football coaches Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer and basketball coaches Ray Mears, Cliff Wettig, Don DeVoe, Wade Houston, Kevin O'Neill and Jerry Green.

A Knoxville native, Ward called baseball, track, swimming and diving and tennis events, as well, for radio and television. A handful of early Lady Vol basketball games during the Pat Summitt era were broadcast by Ward, too.

"John Ward was a perfectionist," Ward's longtime friend and former UT athletics administrator Gus Manning said. "He never did a broadcast of a game that he wasn't fully prepared to do, both from Tennessee's standpoint and that of our opponent."

In 1994, Ward and his wife, Barbara, gave a $2 million gift to Tennessee--the largest gift ever made to the athletic department at the time.

Ward was the president of his own advertising agency and TV production company in Knoxville and was a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science and a J.D. from the college of law.

He was a 28-time recipient of the Tennessee Sportscaster of the Year Award, and in 1976 he was named the Best College Announcer in the Country.

In 1998, he received the inaugural Lindsey Nelson Broadcasting Award, presented annually by the Knoxville Quarterback Club to a broadcaster who exemplified a passion for the profession during his or her career.

Ward also was a multi-term president of the Southeastern Conference Broadcasters Association.

He has been inducted to the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. Additionally, he was awarded the Amateur Football Award by the East Tennessee Chapter of the National Football Foundation.

In 1995, Tennessee named the broadcast level of Tom Elam Press Box at Neyland Stadium The John Ward Broadcast Center in Ward's honor. The following year, he was named an honorary letterman by the Lettermen's T-Club.

The 1998 UT senior class named a pedestrian greenway on the Knoxville campus in honor of Ward and former UT president Joseph E. Johnson.

On June 3, 1998, Ward announced the 1998-99 academic year would be his last in the broadcast chair. In a remarkable storybook ending, the Volunteer football team ran the table en route to the 1998 national championship, while the basketball team captured an SEC Eastern Division championship, capping his magnificent career behind the microphone.

The Vol Network

"It is with a heavy heart that we announce a great voice has gone silent. Mr. John Ward, legendary advertising executive, and one of the most beloved broadcasters and ambassadors for the University of Tennessee, passed away this evening in Knoxville.

"Mr. Ward brought Tennessee football and basketball to life for millions of Tennesseans and listeners worldwide for over three decades. He propelled Tennessee to the forefront of marketing and broadcasting and remains the standard by which all others are measured. While it is a sad day for all Vol Fans, we take great pride in the fact that John belonged to us. Only the Tennessee Volunteers could call John their own, and he was proud to be 'Voice of the Vols.' He loved his alma mater, the fans, and the state of Tennessee. He remains the very heartbeat of the Vol Network.

"Mr. Ward is preceded in death by his beloved wife, Barbara."

Phil Fulmer

UT Athletic Director Phil Fulmer said, "Our entire Tennessee family mourns the loss of the great John Ward. The University of Tennessee has lost one of its most beloved ambassadors.

"For generations of Vol fans, John's voice brought to life many of their fondest memories of Tennessee football and basketball. His visionary thinking paved the way for the Vol Network's rise to prominence as the standard bearer for intercollegiate athletics marketing and broadcasting.

"Despite our shared sadness, I believe it is appropriate to proudly reflect on and cherish the fact that John was ours. We will ensure that his legacy and memory are appropriately honored in the days, months and years to come."

Peyton Manning

"When I think about John Ward, I think about what an incredible life... what an incredible man... and what an incredible Tennessee Volunteer he was. Back when I was in school, and later when I was playing pro ball, whenever I would call someone in the Tennessee Athletic Department--whether I was calling Coach Fulmer, Coach Cutcliffe, Joe Harrington or anyone in the football department--I used to like when one of the assistants would answer and put me on hold, because when they put you on hold, you got to listen to John Ward radio calls from that season or some of his legendary calls from memorable games. That was the 'holding music.' And I used to just love staying on hold--I almost didn't want the person I was calling to pick up. I just loved hearing his voice and hearing some of his great calls of Tennessee football history.

"When I got inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last year, someone sent me a bunch of old radio calls of John Ward calling some of my touchdown passes to Joey Kent or Marcus Nash. And when I was there last fall on the field for a game, we got to recreate a touchdown pass to Joey Kent, and we kind of tried to sync it up with John Ward's voice as it was playing over the loudspeaker at Neyland Stadium.

"He was a big part of my football life there at the University of Tennessee, and he was a part of all Tennessee football fans' lives. His voice and his passion for the Tennessee Vols are simply unmatched. Rest in peace, John. I love you. And I, along with all Tennessee faithful, will miss you."

Bob Kesling

Current UT sportscaster Bob Kesling worked with Ward for many years. In fact, he looked at John Ward as his mentor. On the UT website, Kesling shared several memories.

(On what made Ward so gifted)
"John just had that gift. He wasn't a yeller or a screamer, but he had such great control of his voice and emotions that he was able to capture the moment without using a lot of words. He used the perfect words, and that is what made him so special. Just look at all the great calls he made. He was succinct, precise and accurate, and that was his big calling card. He also had that colorful flare that made him stand out and unique."

(On Ward's preparation for games)
"He would have a clipboard with 30 to 40 pages of typed notes, and he would occasionally thumb through it. I think he had most of it memorized. He might only use 20 or 30 percent of it, but that just tells you how much preparation he did. I think that is from his law background. He attacked every game as if he were about to go in a courtroom and had to make his case."

(On Ward's persona behind the microphone)
"He was one of those special announcers that only come along every once in a while. He had a flare that a lot of guys don't have. He didn't fake it, and it wasn't phony. He had a flare for the dramatic."

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