Getahn Ward, longtime Tennessean reporter, Son of Amelia A. Ward Former Minister of Planning & Economic Affairs, dies at 45
Ward, who joined The Tennessean in 1998 after previously working at the shuttered Nashville Banner, was a bulldog of a reporter, most recently on the real estate beat. He was relentless in his craft, more than happy to pester his sources or tick off PR professionals — "flacks," he called them — if it meant landing a scoop.
He loved every part of reporting a story, especially when it meant prying information he wasn't supposed to know.
Ward resided in Southeast Nashville and was active across the city, particularly at his place of worship, Born Again Church on West Trinity Lane, where he was a deacon and frequently posted videos of services on social media. Exceedingly social, Ward rarely turned down an invitation and was typically the last to leave the party.
He was known for his unselfishness and generosity, and for going out of his way to help his friends. He was a devoted mentor, this year driving the son of single mother to school each morning because he had no other ride.
“He was just an outstanding individual, who was very faithful to his work and to the ministry,” said Born Again Church Pastor Horace Hockett. “He had exceptional character. He was a fixture at Born Again Church. It’s just a shock to all of us.
“It saddens the heart and it saddens the body that it happened so suddenly.”
WARD WAS PROUD OF HIS LIBERIAN HERITAGE
Ward, who moved to the U.S. in 1991, celebrated his citizenship in 2014 by casting his first vote in an American election on his 42nd birthday. He was proud of his African heritage and often told stories about a childhood in a country where civil war ripped the nation apart.
For many years, Ward sent money back to family in Liberia.
“Getahn was a rare human being whose strength of character defined him in a way that engendered deep respect from anyone who knew him, including and especially those whom he covered,” said Michael A. Anastasi, vice president and editor of The Tennessean.
“He cared about his craft, and he made sure he got it right," he said. "If Getahn reported it, Nashville’s business community knew it to be true. Countless business leaders have told me they had given up on keeping their development projects secret because Gethan would always find out and report it. They figured it was easier to just start calling him up.”
Inside the newsroom, he was known for his famously disheveled desk overflowing with documents, phone numbers and clippings. He was just as apt at scouring public records for the latest deeds as he was hounding some of the city's biggest power players for the next big story.
"Come on, man," he would often bellow out on the phone when he thought a source wasn't being forthcoming. "I've known you a long time."
WARD WAS 'HARDEST-WORKING REPORTER IN NASHVILLE,' MAYOR SAYS
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry called Ward "the hardest-working reporter in Nashville."
A portrait of Ward hangs on the outside of the Tennessean building, a testament to his influence in Nashville.
"It’s a wonder he ever slept, because he always seemed to be chasing tips, gathering information and writing as many as six stories a day, including some big scoops," Barry said. "He was also a beloved member of the Liberian community who personified all that is great about our New American community.
"This is a very sad day for Nashville, and my heart goes out to Getahn’s family and to his work family at The Tennessean as they deal with this tragic loss.”
Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, said it was a daunting task to conceal a business story from Ward. “If he called you, you could expect he was already well-informed and that he’d be persistent in asking you questions.”
Schulz was often bound by nondisclosure agreements not to discuss corporate relocations or massive real estate deals. But Schulz said a phone call from Ward meant the story was about to be broken.
Ward could fill up The Tennessean newsroom with a booming voice when pressuring a developer or publicist for information. His rolodex was a who’s who of Nashville business.
“I can’t tell you how many times I read stories about things we were involved in and he was filling in details I didn’t know yet. He had the best network,” Schulz said. “As a journalist, people trusted him. He had a network that he was tenacious about and he was very well-informed.”
WARD USUALLY BROKE THE STORY FIRST, ADMIRERS SAY
Mark Bloom, a downtown Nashville developer who frequently worked with Ward, called him a great person and thorough reporter who was determined to get to the bottom of each real estate transaction — before it became public. But he also brought readers the bigger picture. He said he was on top of the city's real estate trends, particularly in the urban core amid Nashville's ongoing boom.
"He was looking for the facts and the story underneath the transaction," Bloom said of Ward's hard-nosed approach. "And like all good reporters, he was wanting to find out about the transaction before it was really sealed, before he read about it in closing documents or through registered deeds. And most of the time, he figured out where the line formed and he got to the bottom of it.
"He was relentless for the story and most of the time he got it first."
Longtime journalist Pat Embry hired Ward as a business reporter at the Nashville Banner after his graduation from TSU, where he served as editor of the campus newspaper, The Meter.
"Getahn was one of the youngest and last of what could be called an old school scoop-oriented journalist, and starting his career at the Banner was most appropriate," Embry said. "He never lost the underdog's edge of competing in a two-newspaper city."
Ward arrived at The Tennessean as the newspaper was making a strategic decision to ramp up its business coverage. The move included hiring several reporters, including Ward, who had left the Nashville Banner, which had shut down.
Bill Choyke, business editor at The Tennessean in the 1990s, described a young Ward as hard-working and accomplished.
"From an editor's standpoint he also could be very — how do I say this — flustering or he could be exasperating at times," he said. "But at the end of the day, he always came through."
COLLEAGUES REMEMBER TENACIOUS REPORTER, GENEROUS FRIEND
Tennessean investigative reporter Anita Wadhwani, who worked with Ward for 17 years, recalled one evening waiting in the newsroom for hours for Ward to finish landing a scoop before they could head out to a Bob Dylan concert. They missed virtually the entire show, arriving for the last song, but Ward's story landed on the newspaper's front page the next day.
"He was a generous coworker who seemingly had the cell phone number of everyone in Nashville’s business community at his fingertips when you were on deadline and desperate to reach somebody," Wadhwani said. "He was also a generous friend. When I was newly divorced with two young children, Getahn would stop by and get down on my living room floor to play trains with them while I made dinner."
Former Tennessean business reporter Candy McCampbell recalled Ward as being willing to help people in need.
"Getahn was a really good reporter who worked hard on getting a story first and getting it right," McCampbell said. "I sat next to him for several years and overheard his tenacious and insightful questions of sources."
Ward was especially close with his mother, Amelia Ward, who was visiting him from Liberia at the time of his passing.
"Such a kind man and a huge loss for Nashville," U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, said. "Getahn was curious, smart and prolific in his work — a true reporter. Thinking of Getahn's family, as well as his friends and co-workers at The Tennessean."
TAUGHT JOURNALISM AT TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY
Ward juggled his career as a reporter with a position at TSU, where he taught journalism, often beginning his day on the school's North Nashville campus before arriving at The Tennessean.
He was also a staunch advocate for black journalists and held past leadership positions with the Nashville chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.
"I am heartbroken for Getahn, his mother, extended family and friends, colleagues, and our chapter, which he loved dearly," said Hayley Mason with the NABJ Nashville chapter. "Getahn has been a dedicated leader, a passionate mentor, a hardworking journalist, and the backbone of our scholarship efforts over the years. Most importantly, he has been a great person and an amazing friend."
Memorial service information will be made available in the coming days.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @joeygarrison. Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tnnaterau.