By Dr. Karen Brown Dunlap
Getahn Ward’s life crisscrossed mine for over 20 years, causing me to think of him as my best student that I never taught.
It all started at Tennessee State University.
Ward came to TSU as a student from Liberia shorty after I left the faculty to teach in Florida. He soon became editor of the TSU student newspaper, The Meter. I had been Meter adviser for a decade. We began to hear of each other and he sought me out for advice.
His career moved to reporting for the Nashville Banner, then business reporter for The Tennessean. Mine moved to the University of South Florida in Tampa then the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, an international school for professional journalists. I rose from Poynter faculty to dean then president.
During that time, Ward attended programs at Poynter twice and we talked. I admired his quiet smarts in making connections and getting things done, his instincts for helping others and his passion for journalism.
When I retired from Poynter in 2014, I returned to Nashville and taught a class or two each semester at TSU. Ward was my colleague. He taught an early morning journalism class before going to The Tennessean, so we talked teaching techniques and resources. He was energetic, creative and willing to share with me and with students and to seek my advice.
I resumed membership at Nashville’s Born Again Church, and found Getahn servicing as usher and deacon. He led an annual cultural day of short speeches, food, dance and other expressions of the nations represented by members. He and his committee put young people out front and upheld two of Born Again’s values: expressions of the arts in worship and excellence in all things.
Most Sunday’s after church Getahn and I spotted each other in the lobby and talked in the driveway. He gave me updates on the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists since I was back and forth to Tampa. We talked about family, school, and the news, especially his stories.
Ward’s business reporting exemplified the journalism I championed at Poynter.
He was on top of changes in a fast-growing Nashville. He broke the news, but also brought context and completeness. Reading his work was a daily treat.
I got a call Saturday from my friend, Sandra Long Weaver, an NABJ founder, TSU adjunct and current adviser to The Meter. She told me of Getahn’s death following a brief illness.
The shock and the sorrow are deep for me and for others, but so is the inspiration. He touched so many. He achieved so much. What are we doing with our lives?
May we savor the time we had with Getahn; may we grow from his example. May he be long remembered and loved.
To read more about Getahn Ward, visit http://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2017/12/16/getahn-ward-longtime-tennessean-reporter-beloved-community-leader-dies-45/958327001/