In Memoriam

Dr. Richard Ward

Dr. Richard Ward

It is with great sadness today that I have to record the passing of my friend and mentor Dr. Richard Ward.

Dick was one of the most remarkable men I ever met.  After serving as a US Marine, he began his working life as a New York beat cop and went on to become an NYPD detective, but rebelled against corruption in the force and took a university degree in criminology.

From there he moved into teaching, and while Vice Chancellor of the University of Illinois in Chicago, set up the Office of International Criminal Justice (OICJ) which reached out to law enforcement agencies throughout the world, exchanging ideas, co-operation and criminology students.

It was during this time that he spent several years in China, effectively training the top five hundred Chinese police officers in the latest Western policing techniques, and it was this connection that led to my first encounter with him in 1997.

Planning a crime novel set in China, I was seeking information and contacts about the Chinese police at a time when the entire Chinese justice system was a closed book to outsiders.  A friend of Dick’s recommended that I speak to him, so I contacted him by email.

I was in France at the time, and by sheer coincidence Dick was coming to Paris to address a conference on international terrorism.  Quite rightly, he wanted to run the rule over me before committing himself.  And so we arranged to meet for dinner in Paris.  It was a convivial affair, with both our wives present, and I remember a great deal of laughter.  I passed, I think, some kind of invisible litmus test, because following our meal a flurry of texts, emails and phone calls opened doors for me in China which had hitherto been closed to any foreign writers or journalists.

It was a little like getting an introduction to the Mafia from a “made man”.  When I arrived in Beijing for my first research trip, I was taken under the wing of the Ministry of Public Security and given access to virtually whatever I asked for.  That began a long association with China and the Chinese police (who invited me to write a monthly column for their official magazine) which lasted almost a decade, and during which I wrote the six novels of the China Thrillers series, becoming also an honorary member of the Beijing Chapter of the Chinese Crime Writers’ Association.

One of those books was set in the US, though still with a very strong Chinese connection, and it was while researching that book that I went to stay with Dick and his wife and daughter at their ranch just outside Huntsville in Texas, where Dick was by that time Dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University.  He set up research visits for me to one of the high security prisons in Huntsville, as well as a very sobering tour of the “death house” where, in that year, then Governor George W. Bush had already sent thirty-four prisoners to be executed by lethal injection.

I took the liberty of basing one of my characters on Dick, using his ranch as a location – and I recall him taking humorous exception to my description of the mess in his garage.

With Dick and his family at an early morning IHOP breakfast in Texas

With Dick and his family at an early morning IHOP breakfast in Texas

He used to sit of an evening in a conservatory appended to the back of his house and smoke his favourite (illicit) Cuban cigars.  I recall him telling me the story, over a glass of fine malt, of his returning to the US from a trip to Cuba with something like two thousand contraband cigars in his suitcase.  His heart was in his mouth as he was stopped at customs, only to discover that the customs officer was one of his former pupils.  They chatted animatedly for a few moments before the customs man tapped the suitcase on the counter in front of him and said, “I don’t suppose there’s anything in there that I need to look at, Dr. Ward?”  “Not at all,” said Dick, and he was waved through with a handshake and a smile.  (Of course, who knows, that might just have been apocryphal.)

white picket
Probably Dick’s most significant legacy was his creation in 2002, while still in Texas, of the ISVG – the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups.  In a handful of innocent-looking suburban homes behind white picket fences, Dick established with criminology students from around the world what has become the largest and most comprehensive open-source database on violent extremism and transnational terror.  With custom-designed software, his students amassed an enormous relational database identifying trends, relationships and tactics of terrorist groups all over the globe, using only information freely available in the media and on the net.  Having moved latterly to Connecticut, with Dick himself, the ISVG has become the go-to source of information for all anti-terrorist and homeland security organisations in America.

He also wrote several hugely influential books on the subject of crime and criminal justice, including the seminal “Criminal Investigation: A Method of Reconstructing the Past”, along with his friend and colleague James W. cover

In Chicago, and Texas, and latterly at the University of New Haven in Connecticut (where I last visited him five years ago), Dick was responsible for training a whole generation of law enforcement officers from around the world.  The corridors of the FBI and the CIA, and who knows what other agencies, are populated by the former pupils of Dr. Richard Ward, and I never met one that wasn’t an absolute devotee.

He was a man of extraordinary principle, character and charisma, and I along with many thousands of others will miss him sorely.

Dick, Michelle and Sophia during a visit to stay with us in France

Dick, Michelle and Sophia during a visit to stay with us in France

Dick was seventy-five years of age – the twelve year age gap between us always sticking in my mind because we were both born in the Year of the Rabbit.  He is survived by his wife Michelle, whom he married while in China, and their young daughter Sophia  He also has a son, Jon, and daughter, Jeanne, by a previous marriage who loved their father dearly.  My thoughts are with them all.

About Author Peter May

International best-selling author of several series of books: the Lewis Trilogy - "The Blackhouse", "The Lewis Man" and "The Chessmen" - The Enzo Files and the China Thrillers, as well as standalone novels including "Entry Island", "Runaway" and "Coffin Road".
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35 Responses to In Memoriam

  1. David Gilchrist says:

    A good memoriam.I hope when my time comes someone will write about me in the way you have done about Dr Richard Ward RIP.

  2. Carol Bednar says:

    Sorry about your friend. Sounds like a great man. Thanks for sharing

  3. Marion Reece says:

    Sad to hear of Dr Ward’s death. I learned so much about China from The China Thrillers. That knowledge and the pleasure so many have derived from the novels is a fitting tribute to him.

  4. laura figorito says:

    My son, michael figorito has worked with Dr Ward at UNH in many capacities during the past six years. He has been an amazing mentor, friend and “family member” unfortunately I never met him face to face, but spoke with him via emails, phone on a few occassions. He was larger than life. His death as it is devastating, gives all a warm sense of comfort to have known such an amazing man. He was my sons best friend. I treasure a beautiful letter he wrote me about michael and I am so sorry for your loss. It was a beautiful attivle.

  5. Val McGuffie says:

    Dear Peter,

    So sorry to hear,through your e mail,about the death of your good friend Dr. Richard Ward.

    You, obviously, have wonderful memories of him and his family as mentioned in your e mail. I haven’t read any of your China novels at the moment, but when I do, your reminiscences of your good friend will, I’m sure, shine through.

    Take care and remember all the good times.

    Best wishes, Val (McGuffie) Sent from my iPad

  6. Aziz Ozmen says:

    I met with Dr Ward and his ranch parties in 2003 when he was the dean of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University. He has been an amazing mentor and leader who shaped my vision and future in criminal justice . I believe, as a practitioner and theorist, he, his life and experience contributed to criminal justice much more than people expect. I am so sorry for losing him because he was indeed a great and decent man.

  7. Frances myers says:

    Your friend Richars seems extraordinary, not just by his goals and achievements but by his ability to connect so deeply with people. Sounds like you became a team and that led you to write the most revealing books about China that I have ever read. So he broke down the walls and you educated us. You loved him, it sings from every word you wrote. So sorry for loss. Seeing the photos, my absolute condolences to his wife Michelle, and his children Jon, Jeanne and Sophia.

    Take care.

  8. rserrill says:

    Dr. Ward handed me my start in the hotel industry where I worked for him running the University Hotel which was attached to the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University. I am and will forever be grateful for his belief in me. He will truly be missed.

  9. Michelle says:

    Peter, I had the opportunity to meat you on your trip to Huntsville as I worked as Dr. Ward’s Assistant. Thank you for writing this. My heart is broken, but that man has touch so many, his legacy will live on for many years to come.

  10. Ellen says:

    Oh Peter..I just happened upon this and am devastated. I am Dick’s long-time editor at Anderson Publishing. If you could contact me at to get my phone number, or give me yours, I would be so very grateful if you could let me know more about what happened and how best I might contact Michelle and Sophia. I thank you for your nice write-up and know that it is so true that he mentored so many.

  11. Chad Trulson says:

    Dr. Ward was my dean for most of my time at Sam Houston. A great and approachable man. Even as a student, I was at his ranch numerous times with only find memories of him and Michelle and Sophia. They broke the mold with Dr. Ward. He helped so many.

  12. Chad Trulson says:

    Dr. Ward was my dean for most of my time at Sam Houston. A great and approachable man. Even as a student, I was at his ranch numerous times with only fond memories of him and Michelle and Sophia. They broke the mold with Dr. Ward. He helped so many.

  13. Susan Hayes says:

    michelle so sorry for yours and Sophia’s loss. You remain in my prayers.

  14. Evynne Graveline says:

    Peter, thank you so much for writing this for Dr. Ward. We both know you could have gone on and on about his accomplishments and overall about what a wonderful man he was. It seems difficult to even describe him in words, because as you said, he is one of the most remarkable men you had ever met. I was his graduate assistant for 2 years at UNH and I believe we met when you came to visit. I will miss him dearly. Thank you again for sharing this.

  15. J. Mei says:

    Dr. Ward is really a great scholar and administrator. For me and my colleagues in China, he is a close friend and good mentor. I met him for the first time in Hong Kong in 2002 when we attended the meeting there. He invited me to Sam Houston State University as visiting professor for one year in 2005. When he traveled to Beijing in the past decade, I have been pleased to see him. One time I drove him to his hotel, I played the songs by Willie Nelson in my car. I told him I loved Nelson’s songs. He praised me I had a good taste of music. “You are always on my mind” is a song by Nelson. I will miss Dr. Ward forever, he will be always on my mind. I have learned a lot from him. I can hardly to say farewell to this old friend, Dr. Richard Ward.

  16. James says:

    Amazing. He was my mentor in Texas and Connecticut. Beautifully done sir. And you were absolutely right about that garage of his.

  17. Jim Walker says:

    this is a really nice tribute to an amazing person who touched many lives… thank you for this.

    dr ward was a truly special person to me in my most formative college years. he was a rudder to my exploration and lifelong inspiration to me. he took me on my first trip abroad and i have been traveling the globe ever since.

    so happy to hear the terrorismn database continued… back then, while working in the OICJ office, i helped create the TDF (terrorism data file) in foxpro. i knew more about tamil tiger rebels than anyone back then… heh.

    RHW is a great great man.

  18. Hi Peter,
    I was the last of Dr. Wards administrative assistants, with him til the end. In reading your article and looking at the picture I spotted the NYPD sweatshirt that he had on the last day he came to the office. I had never seen him in it and commented on how cool he looked, funny you should post the picture with him sporting it. I loved him dearly and enjoyed every minute of working with him, life changing! To say the least.

  19. Henry Walli says:

    Richard Ward was a street smart guy from the streets of New York City. He was our Vice Chancellor of Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a member of the Staff Advisory Council, I had a lot of personal contact with Dr. Ward. He inspected what he expected and made many major contributions to the safety of our campus community. As an administrator he was exemplary. As a person, he was straight-forward and honorable. Our Global Village will not be the same without him. To his family, I share your sorrow. “We are alive as long as we are remembered.” Let us keep Richard “Dick” Ward’s memory alive.

  20. Nikki Hardin says:

    I just finished the Lewis trilogy and was bowled over by how powerful they are. I would love to read the China series but it doesn’t seem to be available for Kindle or as ebooks through the Quercus site. Any plans to bring it out in ebook or a recorded book?

    • Hi Nikki, the China series is available in Kindle in the UK, but not in the States. Not quite sure why. But the series, from next April, is coming out in new paperback editions, which should be available on both sides of the Atlantic.

  21. janeykate says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing, and a lovely way to remember your friend. Jane x

  22. Frank L. Miller says:

    Hello Peter, my name is Frank L. Miller, it’s good to know that even after the demise of the good once, their well wishes and lovely once never forgot them….I indeed appreciate you Peter for your good thought about DICK indeed he was a great man, as my late father did spoke well of him before he passed on last year March 20th 2016………Frank L. Miller from Davenport, Iowa U.S.A

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