KKTV anchor Don Ward was one of those people who always knew just what to say and when to say it.
Don masterfully moderated our Gazette/KKTV Community Conversations for us, and I remember how his grace and humanity shone during one particularly boisterous forum on bike lanes. Four hundred people crowded into Studio Bee for the town hall, which was punctuated throughout the night by boos, applause, shouts and even the ringing of bicycle bells.
None of it rattled Don as he wheedled and cajoled the rowdy crowd through a frank and in many ways cathartic airing of opposing opinions on bike lanes. Sometimes, Don said to me that night, people just need to be heard.
“I love this city,” Don told the crowd at the conclusion of the town hall. “My family moved here when I was 12 in 1978. I know you love this city, too, because you’re all here tonight. So maybe this is the start of something that can get some things resolved.”
It was a great way to bring it all to a close, and a timely prayer for all of us now, and not a bad way to honor Don’s memory after his unexpected passing due to an apparent heart attack while hiking at the tender age of 55. He reminded me always during those conversations that our common ground is as big as Colorado Springs itself, that no matter what our differences, we can all connect over a shared love of this city.
And nobody loved Colorado Springs more than Don. He was a Doherty High School grad and CU alum, passionate lover of the arts community here, and avid hiker and outdoorsman. The son of a retired Air Force major, he was a good friend of the military as well.
He had a sprawling ecosystem of family here and friends say he was close to his mom, siblings and especially his nieces and nephews.
“His dream job was to get back to Colorado Springs (from Denver),” said the guy who hired him in 2006, Nick Matesi, senior vice president for Gray Television. “He was a good friend and a great colleague. You do this stuff day in and day out and you kinda forget the impact that these people have. Clearly, he meant something to the community.”
In a recent Gazette interview, Don said this: " I couldn't have expected 31 years ago when I was getting started, that I would end up with a main anchor job in my hometown. It's an honor to serve the community where I grew up. My first job was at Baskin-Robbins at Flintridge and Academy when I was 16. I have a feeling this will be my last job, so it's full circle in Colorado Springs."
Nick said KKTV has seen an enormous outpouring of support and remembrance since Don's death.
That's probably because in a business of galactic Ted Baxter egos, Don was the opposite, always driven by curiosity about others, always self-effacing and humble. Our past publisher once introduced him this way: “Community Conversations require four things: A timely topic, a balanced and expert panel, an engaged audience, and someone who can make all the other three happen.”
Don came up to the podium and deadpanned, “You know, three out of four’s not bad!”
The Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 was a defining moment for Don. “It was a defining moment in the station’s history ... the community’s history, and just his dedication to it," Nick said. "He and (co-anchor) Dianne were on the air for 130 hours straight." One of the anchors was on the air for 12 hours, then the other, back and forth like that for nearly six days. "There was not a single script written, not one," Nick said. "It was 100% ad lib.”
Don covered the Planned Parenthood shootings and the Aurora theater massacre with the same professionalism, the same long hours on air and the same decency toward all those affected.
That spirit lives on at KKTV in all the younger journalists he mentored, too.
11 News Reporter Catherine Silver recently shared a story showcasing Don’s love for the fine arts, giving us a glimpse into his guitar-filled basement and his passion for all things “Hamilton.”
“I got choked up watching it,” Nick said. “She really did him justice, and you could tell that she learned from him how to write." She told Don's story just like Don might have told the story. "It was like Don Ward speaking through her," Nick said.
Another one of Don's mentees, Anthony Keith, Digital Content Manager for KKTV, had this to say: “I've worked with him just about every night for the last four years and he really took me under his wing this past year. I was lucky enough to share some beers with him last Wednesday at his place for some real "bro time."
"Don is a legend in my eyes," Tony added. "The lessons I learned from him I'll be passing down to young and veteran journalists throughout the rest of my career. He is, not was, the soul of our KKTV family and I know his legacy will live on for years to come."