Benjamin Ward, the citys first black police commissioner and longtime Beechhurst resident, died Monday in the hospital at the age of 75.
Ward, who suffered from chronic asthma, was found unconscious in his Cryder House apartment on Powells Cove Boulevard Friday and rushed to New York Hospital Queens in Flushing.
The cause of death is still undetermined, said Cynthia Miska, a spokeswoman for NYHQ.
Ward was remembered as an influential figure in Queens and throughout the city.
Ben Ward wrote history when he became the citys first black police commissioner, said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, the first black person to hold a boroughwide office in Queens. He was an outstanding public servant who made a difference in the daily lives of all New Yorkers.
In a statement, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Ward served our city with dignity and dedication and he will be sorely missed.
Carla Rogers, who lived with her husband across the hall from Wards family in Cryder House for several years, remembered both his health problems and his personality.
He had asthma quite often, and he really had a battle with it, she said. He was a very nice man and a lovely neighbor.
Ward was born in the Weeksville section of Brooklyn, one of 11 children.
Wards father died when Ward was a teenager, and his mother supported her children by working as a cleaning woman.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Ward joined the New York Police Department in 1951. He started off as a traffic officer and faced discrimination as the only black member of his Brooklyn precinct, where he was not given a locker and rarely allowed to ride in police cars.
After working his way up the ranks in the NYPD, Ward became New York states commissioner for correctional services in 1975. Three years later, he took charge of the city Housing Authority police. The following year Ward became the city corrections commissioner, which made him the citys highest-ranked black official.
At the end of 1983, Mayor Edward Koch appointed Ward as the first black commissioner of the citys police.
Its not going to make me succeed, but its not going to make me fail either, Ward said of his race in his first day as police commissioner.
Ward, who retired in 1989, served the city during a time of escalating crime rates led by the crack epidemic.
He also led the citys police in times of racial unrest. During Wards term, Bernard Goetz, who is white, shot four black teenagers in a city subway. Michael Griffith, a 23-year-old black man, was hit and killed by a car after being chased in Howard Beach by a group of white teenagers wielding baseball bats.
In a television interview Tuesday, Koch praised Ward for his handling of the job during his administration.
He was a man of extraordinary courage, not afraid of anything or anybody, Koch said.
Ward is survived by his wife, Olivia, his daughters, Jacquelyn, Margie and Mary, and his sons, Gregory and Benjamin, Jr.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2002 Community News Group
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