By Sandra Long Weaver
Tennessee Tribune Editorial Director
NASHVILLE, TN — Mr. Getahn Ward’s passion and love for journalism didn’t start when he enrolled in Tennessee State University in the early 1990s. His talent was evident when he was a teenager in his native Liberia and began writing for the local newspaper about government corruption.
He continued to hone his skills at TSU where he became editor of The Meter, the student publication and went on to became an award-winning business reporter for the now shuttered Banner and The Tennessean.
He was a very active member of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Mr. Ward was the chapter’s parliamentarian and chair of the scholarship committee.
Mr. Ward was a deacon at Born Again, his beloved church on Trinity Lane in Nashville and very active in Nashville’s local Liberian community. He was also an adjunct professor at TSU and a participant in a men’s health group based at Meharry Medical College.
Mr. Ward, 45, died unexpectedly in his sleep on Dec. 16. According to The Tennessean, his mother was visiting him from Liberia at the time of his death.
“Getahn’s passing comes as a tremendous shock, and our chapter is deeply heartbroken. He was a driving force for mentorship, service, and progress in the Nashville community and a longtime pillar in our chapter,” said Hayley Mason, outgoing Nashville chapter president.
Added incoming chapter president Grover Murrell, “Getahn touched so many lives not only here in Nashville but throughout the country. His passing is a complete shock. The Nashville chapter of NABJ is extremely heartbroken. We will celebrate Getahn’s life and continue to honor him in the days and years to come.”
Beyond his work as an accomplished business writer for the Tennessean newspaper, Getahn spent countless hours every year building relationships with educators and students to grow the chapter’s scholarship efforts for student journalists across the state, Mason said.
“He was a teacher and mentor at heart and was always committed to serving others. Getahn leaves behind an indelible legacy and an incredible void in our hearts,” Mason said.
National NABJ President Sarah Glover recalled the last time she saw and spoke with Ward. He offered positive words of support of her leadership in August at the annual convention in New Orleans and encouraged her to continue to press NABJ forward.
“Getahn was a bright light. His smile was infectious and his caring nature for others will be missed. Getahn’s stories were excellent on the business beat and his perspective was sorely needed.
“Getahn’s legacy is one of service to the mission of NABJ, a reminder to take care of one another and that one person can have a great impact on their local community. NABJ extends heartfelt sympathies to everyone he touched,” Glover said in a statement through the National Association of Black journalists.
Tennessee State Rep. Brenda Gilmore also remembered Mr. Ward. “Nashville lost a great friend in Getahan Ward. Getahn cared about people and he cared about this community. He was generous and he was kind. He was relentless in finding out the truth about any issue and would always make sure that every side of the issue was presented. His beautiful smile will forever reside in my memories of him,” she said.
Rosetta Miller Perry, publisher and CEO of The Tennessee Tribune, said she talked with Mr. Ward on a regular basis. “Getahn’s death changes a lot of things for me. I miss his voice asking questions, directing me to give him feedback. We had a wonderful working relationship and I am not ready to accept that he is gone but I am working on it,” she said.
“Hearing of Gethan’s passing came as a great shock to me,” said Jason Luntz, past president of the Nashville NABJ. “He was not only an associate; I considered him a friend. He was someone who you could depend on to support you professional and personally. Not only has NABJ had a huge loss, but so has Nashville.”
His activism in the Nashville community included serving as long time Parliamentarian and Scholarship Chairman for the Nashville NABJ, said Lelan A. Statom, senior meteorologist from WTVF TV. “He had a passion for educating the next generation of journalists, and that was part of his mission on the scholarship committee.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues. He’ll be greatly missed,” Statom said.
His presence will not only be missed by the community but also by the TSU journalism faculty and students that he touched. Shayla Simmons, a junior and current Editor-in-Chief of The Meter, pointed out how important Mr. Ward was to inspiring her to take journalism courses. “Professor Ward was my professor during my first-ever semester at TSU,“ she said.
“While that was a while ago, I will never forget his knowledge and passion for his work. We sometimes joked about his many accolades and how often he brought them up in class, but it just proved that we were in the presence of a true journalist, and an accomplished one at that. Beyond that, he was such a caring and patient man when it came to his students. He truly wanted us all to succeed and made sure we left his classroom with the tools to accomplish our goals. His presence will be missed dearly.”
She went on to say, “He was also an amazing help to The Meter staff over the years as we grew, learning from his experiences as a former editor. His expertise was invaluable over the years, something I’ve truly come to appreciate as I assumed the position myself.”
Gloria C. Johnson, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at TSU, said “I have known Getahn Ward since he was a student at Tennessee State University and have been very pleased that he continued to support the University as an adjunct professor. He was very knowledgeable and committed to his profession. He was a great role model for our students. We are saddened by this loss and will miss him.”
Dr. Tameka Winston, who chairs the Department of Communications at TSU, said she was “truly saddened by the passing of my friend and colleague. He served faithfully as an adjunct faculty member for several years and the students adored him. He was an integral part of the journalism program. As a longtime journalist for the Tennessean, he never hesitated to share his expertise with the students.
“Professor Ward and I met many years ago when I moved to Nashville. We are both Chips Quinn Journalism Program Alums. He reached out to welcome me to the city when he heard that a fellow Chips Quinn alum (Chipster) had moved to the area. Getahn was a stellar professor and the department will never be able to replace him.”
TSU Professor James Stephens, who worked with Mr. Ward, said he has lost a dear friend, colleague and mentor in Mr. Ward. “So sad. Getahn, although young, was an old soul who was kind, wise, and so gracious and graceful in his person and manner.
“Journalism, especially the Black Press, has lost one of its best reporters. And the academy one of its best educators.”
Dr. Pamela Foster, a professor at Georgia State University, who served as an advisor to The Meter during Mr. Ward’s tenure as The Meter editor, said he was a focused young man.
“As editor of The Meter while a student at Tennessee State University, Getahn helped Samuel F. Yette’s vision as founding editor continue to grow. I am honored to call Getahn a colleague and friend and am forever grateful for all he did while at The Meter and subsequently to be a great journalistic example _ a story worth telling.”
Dr. Syb Brown, journalism professor at Belmont University, described Ward as “the heart” of the Nashville NABJ chapter. “Getahn and Lelan Statom, former chapter president, have been staples in the Nashville NABJ for more than 20 years. Whenever I introduce them, I say they are the heart and soul of our chapter. We are devastated to lose our heart.”
Dasia Clemente, assignment editor at Fox 17 News, said “Nashville has truly lost one of its kindest people. As a former student of Mr. Ward, I can truly say that he has helped me on my path to becoming a journalist. I am deeply saddened by his passing and he will be missed.”
Alexis Clark, a junior at TSU and a staffer for The Meter, recalled that her first story ever written for the student newspaper was about Mr. Ward. “He had a passion for storytelling and expression through writing. He was an amazing teacher and made a huge contributions to The Tennessean.”
Harriet Vaughn Wallace, a reporter at Channel 17 and a former NABJ chapter president, said as a young teenager she was inspired by Ward’s passion for journalism.
“I first met Getahn during my high school internship at The Tennessee Tribune. He had such a thick accent. It was hard to understand what he was saying but I absolutely understood his message. Passion and purpose do not require a translator,” Wallace said. “He impressed upon me at 14 years old what he continued to share in our later years as reporters at The Tennessean _ look ahead and do your best. Always show up hungry for the truth and don’t stop til you get it. Though an aggressive and relentless reporter, he did so in such a gentle and thoughtful way.
“When I was president of NABJ – Nashville, Getahn would always check in on me, uplift me, support me and at times, talk me down off the ledge. He would first offer himself for whatever the chapter needed, then remind me that our work with NABJ was necessary and we had to fight on. He attended every meeting and event after work and would take on any task he was given.
“That’s how much he believed in what we did as an organization of minority journalists. He loved everyone but he had a special place in his heart for NABJ, the students and the family environment we created.”
Arrangements for funeral services are incomplete at this time.