Katie Ward passed away on Monday, June 14, 2021.
She suffered from brain cancer which metastasized to her kidneys. I'd like to think she was surrounded by loved ones, but I don't know. There are many things I don't know about Katie, but this I do know: she was a dear friend and mentor.
I met Katie in early 2009, soon after rediscovering myself. We hit it off nicely, but didn't really start speaking until I visited TransCentral PA a few months later. We bantered back and forth, and learned about each other. She was vital to the Keystone Conference in Harrisburg every year, so I also saw her there. Katie didn't BS people- she was blunt, and I liked that about her. If I looked like shit, she said so. If she thought I'd had enough to drink, she'd say that as well.
Katie's life was all about service. She served... well, it's easier to do this. The following is what TransCentral PA sent out about her passing. It's how I learned she'd died.
We are sorry to announce the passing of our beloved friend and sister Katie Ward.
She passed on Monday, June 14th in a care facility after finding out less than a month ago she had stage 4 brain cancer which had metastasized to her kidneys. The prognosis was short, but she underwent a few treatments of radiation so she could have a little more time with her daughter and granddaughters. Although tired a lot in her last days, she said she had no pain.
Katie dedicated much of her life in service to others. She served our country honorably, first in the Navy, and then in the Air National Guard which she retired from after 20+ years of military service.
She was an officer of TransCentralPA for over five years and a volunteer/member for twice that amount of time. She would consistently host dinners around Harrisburg before our support group meetings to give people a chance to forge friendships both within and outside the group and build confidence in themselves. She enjoyed helping people and giving back.
She actively participated in many community organizations such as the Keystone Business Alliance whom she helped plan their annual awards banquet for a couple of years.
Her favorite event though was the one she helped grow into one of the largest events in the country--The Keystone Conference, A Celebration of Gender Diversity. Katie took on many roles at Keystone; she was the volunteer coordinator, the off-site event coordinator, the security coordinator, the Registrar and many others for several years. At the Saturday Night Gala of the last Keystone, Katie received a much-deserved standing ovation for her contributions to Keystone and the Central Pennsylvania community.
With her passing, Katie leaves behind a legacy of generosity, kindness and compassion. We will miss you Katie--thank you for being our friend.
So, you see, Katie was all about helping others. I was one of many t-girls who benefitted from her wisdom and friendship.
It's so hard to write this. Even though I knew it was coming, I still feel a deep hollow emptiness. She did so much for so many- it just isn't fair that she should pass while so many useless people survive.
She was buried in a military cemetery under her birth name. So the name Katie Ward passes into memory, kept only by those who knew her Truth. I don't know how many of her family knew about Katie. I think her daughter did. In any case, we the transgender community have a responsibility to not just keep her memory alive, but to rise to the challenge that her service demands. She showed us how caring and helping others can be done, and it's up to us to step up and continue her work.
I remember telling her several times that I wanted to be her when I grew up. She would usually reply with "like you'll ever grow up."
It's rare that one can tell people exactly how you feel about them, and I took that opportunity with Katie. Once I heard about her diagnosis (and that I couldn't visit due to covid restrictions) I messaged her on Facialbook and told her what she meant to me. I hope she knew what she meant to so many people in our community, and how great her life impacted so many others.
I know that this piece doesn't begin to give justice to the beautiful soul who has left us, but I think everyone who knew her will understand the depth of grief we all share.
On her page, I wrote "May the four winds blow you safely home", but I think a more appropriate parting would be "Fair winds and following seas, Katie." I will miss you, dear friend, and do my best to follow your example.
Photo by Cassandra Storm