Lumen Gentium Award Winner Profile

Ward’s mission is focusing on the good news

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WOONSOCKET — It took a tremendous leap of faith on his part to put Tom Ward where he is today.

At a time when the publishing world was beginning to enter the digital revolution, and many newspapers not turning large enough profits were being shuttered by chains eager to protect their bottom line, Ward bucked the trend. He decided to leave his job as an editor at a daily in Massachusetts to launch his own paper.

He envisioned The Valley Breeze as a true community paper when he began publishing it as a free weekly in 1996.

“We give them something they can’t get anywhere else,” Ward, the owner and publisher, says of his newspaper, which has stayed true to its original mission and focuses on the positive news happening in the communities it serves.

“Through the paper we try to illuminate the goodness of the community.”

While the paper does cover elements of the hard news shaping the communities it serves – such as the happenings in local government — its bread and butter appeal is found in its coverage of the everyday people who live and work in local cities and towns.

It showcases their hopes and dreams and their interactions at community festivals, in schools, houses of worship, or on the local soccer or baseball fields.

It’s a formula that has proven quite successful.

Lauded as a 2012 Distinguished New England Newspaper, The Breeze, as the paper is commonly known, has grown in 20 years from an initial circulation of 10,000 to more than 62,000 copies, and features news coverage from 11 communities across Rhode Island.

For his dedication to community news, as well as his support of communities across the state through endeavors such as his 10-year sponsorship of the R.I. State Spelling Bee, community cleanup days and support for the performing arts, Ward will be honored with the diocesan Lumen Gentium Award this year in the Communications category.

Ward, 62, lives in Cumberland with Carol J. (Leonard) Ward — his wife of 35 years — who works as a registered nurse. The couple, who are parishioners at St. John Vianney Parish, are the parents of four children: Michaela C. Kellogg; Katelyn M. McMorrow; Kristen E. Ward and Steven T. Ward; and one grandson, Benjamin, 1. Ward taught CCD at their parish when his daughters were younger.

While Tom and Carol are both graduates of Rhode Island College, where his wife, a registered nurse, earned her degree — while he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology — Ward maintains a special fondness for the formative years he spent at Mount Saint Charles Academy in his native Woonsocket.

“My education at Mount Saint Charles has been really important to me,” he says. “That foundation carries on forever.”

The son of the late Dr. Bernard V. Ward and his late wife, Simone, of Woonsocket, Ward grew up with seven brothers and two sisters. All 10 were educated in the Catholic tradition at St. Joseph School, St. Clare High School and Mount St. Charles.

Last year, he was added to Mount Saint Charles’ Excelsior Hall of Fame.

That strong foundation has served as the bedrock for all that he has accomplished.

“My faith is the signpost of my life,” he says.

In 1977, Ward began working as a photojournalist for The Woonsocket Call, becoming the daily’s first-ever Sunday editor in 1985.

He went on to become special sections editor for the Fall River Herald News in 1990 before leaving to launch The Valley Breeze six years later.

Both as a businessman and a volunteer, Ward has been deeply involved in the community.

He has served as past president of the Cumberland-Lincoln Rotary Club, where he is a Paul Harris Fellow; and as Grand Marshall of both the Autumnfest Parade in Woonsocket and the Arnold Mills Fourth of July Parade in Cumberland.

Ward enjoys the path his life has taken, and feels confident in his mission in bringing the good news to his readers.

“It’s tougher than it used to be. There are more challenges and more competitors, but we’re soldiering on,” Ward says. “There are enough people who believe in the mission.”

“As long as we stay unique and interesting, we’ll be okay.”