Morris Arts honors the memory of Carolyn Ward, former Executive Director

On the 27th of September, 2021, we lost one of the brightest lights of the NJ arts world when Carolyn Tamplin Ward passed away in Williamsburg, VA. A woman of substance, vision, dedication, taste and memorable kindness, she was much beloved and universally respected by all whose lives she touched.

Her accomplishments in the arts field in Morris County are legion. For the 15 years between 1991 and 2006, Carolyn Ward served as Executive Director of Morris Arts. Guiding the organization with a sure hand and a strong sense of vision, she shaped, mentored and nurtured not only the arts but all of the individuals and organizations with whom she came in contact.  Seasoned by her nonprofit leadership experience as President of the Junior League of Morristown and of Homeless Solutions (formerly the Morris Shelter), Ward brought her talents to Morris Arts, first as Assistant Director in 1990, and then as Executive Director in July 1991. During her tenure, she oversaw significant changes at Morris Arts, whose budget quadrupled and whose staff evolved from primarily part-timers and volunteers to one of 7 full-time professionals. In 2003, Morris Arts moved from its increasingly tight attic space at Fairleigh Dickinson University to professional offices at 163 Madison Ave., equipped with modern computers, a flourishing website and a reconfigured database.

However, even more significant were the less tangible yet crucial initiatives whose impacts were widespread and profoundly felt throughout the larger community. With unerring instinct, persistence and breadth of vision, Carolyn Ward made it her priority to educate the larger community about the value of the arts to daily life, to replace the persistent “arts as a frill” mindset with a truer understanding that the arts are integral to all life. Not surprisingly, the achievements of which she remained most proud focused on her success in establishing important community relationships with a wide variety of groups and individuals to change the way people look at the arts and to nurture the arts throughout this area. 

Her efforts spawned partnerships with community boards, social service groups, governments, schools, arts groups and individual artists. The roster is impressive: She was a founding member of First Night Morris, the New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts for which Morris Arts provided 29 years of topflight artistic programming. She partnered with United Way on the Unity Quilt project after 9-11, demonstrating the healing power of the arts, involving the entire community to create quilts for families of those lost on that tragic day. She worked with Homeless Solutions – offering arts activities for teens and middle school students to connect peers, provide a sense of family and offer an opportunity for individual expression; And, with Head Start (Dover) – she organized arts projects designed to strengthen family bonds (such as Padre a Padre which enabled fathers and children to decorate outdoor benches for their community);  With Family Services – she provided training for day care workers on how to incorporate the arts into their lessons; and in discussions with the Carole G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Memorial, she explored the idea of visual arts training for patients undergoing chemotherapy. Other partnerships included artistic programming for the former 3rd Saturdays at Morris View series, which brought monthly performances to that facility’s residents – in partnership with the County Board of Commissioners. A collaboration with the Trustees of the Morristown Green yielded Midday Music on the Green, a free summer lunchtime concert series– which then evolved into Music Beyond Borders, a more recent collaboration with the Mayo Performing Arts Center, offering free lunchtime performances of world music/dance on the Green. Additionally, under her leadership, Morris Arts coordinated the START project, funded by the Lila Wallace Foundation through the NJ State Council on the Arts, which brought 244 works of art by 71 artists to the corporate workplace. During Ward’s tenure, Morris Arts prepared the Countywide Cultural Plan which provided direction to arts and other organizations, and exponentially grew the Arts in Education and Arts Plus Residencies which continue to weave the arts into the fabric of school curricula.  In addition, she championed the Scholarship Program which for two decades has offered two Morris Arts scholarships annually to competitively chosen graduating seniors to recognize and encourage outstanding young artists.

Under Ward’s leadership, Morris Arts distinguished itself on both a local and state level, garnering top awards such as the multiple State designations as “a major arts organization” and repeatedly receiving the State’s “Citation of Excellence,” in recognition of its “artistic excellence, substantial programming and broad public service.”  During her tenure, Morris Arts also saw the fruits of its supportive efforts in the substantial growth and successes of many area arts organizations and professional artists.

Her passing prompted many tributes:

Tom Werder, Morris Arts’ current Executive Director wrote: “Carolyn led the organization with a sure hand and strong vision…It is safe to say that Morris Arts wouldn’t be we are today if it weren’t for Carolyn’s accomplishments.”

Dr. Lynn L. Siebert, former Morris Arts board member and staff member wrote: “Her years as Executive Director of Morris Arts were seminal in so many ways and we all owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude for establishing our organization on such firm footing and securing our reputation for excellence. Those of us privileged to work with her never forgot her kindness, her deep knowledge of the arts and our community, and her ability to lead by example.”

Board member Doon Wintz wrote: “I am sorry for the loss of such a bright light … for all of us in the Morris Arts family.  Beyond being a force for good, Carolyn was such a kind, thoughtful and loving person.  She epitomized class and caring and provided so many great examples—how to live a productive, engaging and meaningful life; how to treat people; how to be fully present; how to gracefully hand over a legacy, how to be a good colleague and friend.  Her memory will be an ever-present touchstone for me and for many like me who had the pleasure of knowing and working with her.”

Former Board President, Dick Eger, described Ward as a “focused visionary” and added “Always, she was there leading.  Well dressed, signature scarf and brooch in place, hair perfect—she was prepared for battle.  Her weapons were determination, tenacity and patience.  She virtually invented ‘networking’ long before it was folded into to the American lexicon.  Her recipes for her own successes always included human kindness, a genuine thoughtfulness that is all too rare today.  You intuitively knew she cared… Lady-like decorum, an air of properness never left her and yet her aura of control and its underlying power was unmistakably ever-present.  She was a joy to be with and work with and I am still indebted to her as an incomparable partner when I was president.”

Alan Levitan, former Board President and current Board member wrote: “My first impression was more about Carolyn than the Board because it was quite apparent that she was passionate about the arts and about what she was doing. In other words, using today’s vernacular, she was totally ‘mission focused.’ This provided instant inspiration for me which I hope has continued in the role I have played fulfilling Morris Arts’ impact in our community and, when I thought about it this morning, has continued Carolyn’s vision.”

David Clair, former longterm Board member added: As a board member stated “… I have little more to add. CAROLYN WAS A CLASS ACT. PURE, SIMPLE, AND ALWAYS.”

Carolyn’s own words, offered at her retirement, reveal her graciousness and her dedication to the arts:

 “My work with the Arts Council [renamed Morris Arts] has given me a deep appreciation of the power of the creative spirit and the value of the arts to our daily lives. The past 15 years have been both an exciting and challenging time of growth and development for the organization, as well as for the arts community in the Morris area and statewide….I feel especially fortunate and truly privileged to have worked side by side with a dedicated board and an outstanding staff to promote and celebrate the arts to those that live in our region.”

Not surprisingly, Ward remained culturally active even in retirement. Living near Colonial Williamsburg, she enjoyed the museums, concerts and events at the College of William & Mary, led historic garden tours and served as a docent for two sites within the historic village, the Thomas Everard House and Wetherburn’s Tavern.

Morris Arts pays heartfelt tribute to Carolyn Ward for the gifts of her inspiring leadership, vision, kindness and dedication which she shared so generously throughout her years as leader of Morris Arts.  We will treasure her legacy.

Her obituary can be found at: