Ward Marshall Wheatall of Mechanicsville, Virginia, a former Westport resident, died March 13. He was 84.
Ward Wheatall: longtime Exxon executive. Contributed photo
He was born on a farm in rural northwest Pennsylvania near Titusville (home of the first commercial oil well), on Nov. 18, 1933, during a raging snowstorm. His brother Norman walked miles to get the midwife as the snow was too deep for the horse.
Born with a congenital heart defect, a doctor told Ward’s parents early on that he would never be able to work the farm, or pass a military physical, and needed to go to college.
That didn’t slow Ward from doing his share on the farm: plowing fields by horse team, milking cows, and tending to the livestock.
He often rode their pony, Dolly, to the one-room schoolhouse, and formed lifelong friendships with childhood buddies, Dick Johnson and Sam Oberman, as they played amidst ancient derricks in the pastures and traveled to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to cheer on the Indians and Pirates.
The gift of his heart defect and the determination of his parents, Mabel and Harry, shaped Ward’s life. He left the farm to study at Edinboro Teachers’ College instead of to fight in Korea.
Soon after arriving at Edinboro, a wise person advised Ward to study rocks — geology — at Penn State. That sounded appealing, so off he went to earn both bachelor’s and M.S. degrees in petroleum engineering.
Ward graduated in 1955 at the age of 21 and joined Creole Petroleum, an Exxon affiliate. Ward’s journey continued to destinations across the country and the globe.
His “homes” have included: Tia Juana, Venezuela; Tulsa, Oklahoma, Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya; Westport, Plano, Texas; and Williamsburg, Virginia.
In Venezuela, Ward quickly fell for the love of his life, a third grade teacher from Detroit, Jane Ann Alexy.
He always said that since he skipped third grade in the one-room schoolhouse, he couldn’t be happier spending the rest of his life in third grade with Jane.
Their three children arrived during the 1960s — a decade spent in Libya, where Ward progressed to manager of petroleum engineering and developed a lifelong affinity for the Libyan people and country.
Returning to the states to work at Exxon corporate headquarters, he settled his family in Westport, and caught the 5:59 a.m. train from Greens Farms to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
It was a long, long day but Ward found plenty of time for his family and church. He coached the girls’ Little League softball team — the Chargers — for years, including 1974, “That Championship Season,” the inaugural year in which girls were welcome to play.
Ward was a mainstay, in a variety of capacities, at St. Paul Lutheran Church, including chief supporter and right hand to the founder of St. Paul Christian School, his wife, Jane.
During the 1970s, as company expert on Middle Eastern oil production, Ward was frequently consulted by both Exxon and government officials responding to the decade’s price shocks and supply disruptions.
As the family put roots down in Connecticut, Ward turned down numerous opportunities within Exxon to allow all three children to graduate high school there.
Ward retired from Exxon in 1986, but the lure of the oil business remained. Ward became an independent consultant and then accepted a job as vice president for Hunt Oil, in Dallas, Texas, where he oversaw development and start-up of a major oil field in Yemen.
He and Jane eventually retired to Williamsburg, and actively supported the nascent community at King of Glory Lutheran Church.
Ward again filled many leadership roles, including chief supporter of Jane’s work establishing another school where the spiritual development of the child is honored and respected.
Ward also volunteered countless hours for FISH: coordinating medical rides (and driving many himself) and soliciting food to fill the FISH food pantry.
As Ward’s heart finally succumbed to the dire warnings made over 80 years ago, his daughter, Suzanne, did everything humanly possible to ensure his health and happiness, and he spent his final three years close to her in Mechanicsville.
Ward always gave generously of his time, talent and treasure. He was very conscious of the impact education had on his own life, and he gave generously to help open the door to education to others.
In addition to creating scholarship funds at both of the church schools Jane founded, Ward also endowed scholarships at Penn State (Harry Wheatall Renaissance Scholarship) and University of Michigan (Jane Alexy Wheatall and Jacqueline Ward Welsh Scholarship) to honor his father, and wife and granddaughter.
In addition to his parents and wife, Ward was predeceased by his namesake granddaughter, Jacky Ward Welsh; and siblings, Norman, Ruth and Marion. He is survived by his son, Michael (Suzanne), of Anchorage, Alaska, daughters Natalie (Jon Welsh), of East Granby, and Suzanne (Joe Casey), of Midlothian, Virginia; and grandchildren: Aaron, Ben, Liz, Harrison, Patrick, Jack and Nate; and nieces and nephews: Becky, Mary Alice, Phyllis, Bob, Cathy, Paula, Steve, Ken and Lisha.
A memorial service was held March 17 at King of Glory Lutheran Church, Williamsburg, and this summer the family will gather in Crawford County, to intern Ward and Jane’s remains at Union Cemetery, and celebrate their lives at the cousins’ cottage, Somernaut.