Obituary: Ward Thomas Sumner
August 5, 1950 – September 1, 2021
Ward was born August 5, 1950 in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. His family lived many places during his father’s career in the US Army. In order to establish a “home base” the family bought a cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado from which they would hike, ski and camp, taking any excuse to enjoy the outdoors. Holly, Ward’s sister, continues to maintain a home there. In 1955 his father, Gordon, was posted to Germany where Ward started school in a German speaking classroom. Here while in Europe, Ward’s mother, Mac, began her career in the Girl Scouts. Hiking, camping and skiing in the Alps with Scouts and family deepened Holly and Ward’s love of the natural world. Curiously, he had an innate sense of direction even helping his parents navigate through Europe at an early age. This ability served him well as his love of geography and travel continued throughout his life.
Eventually, the family moved back to Washington DC. After graduation from high school, he studied Geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, spending every spare minute hiking or skiing.
Ward continued his education earning a Master’s degree from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. The following summer he began to do field work in Alaska followed by mineral exploration throughout the Western US, South America and parts of Europe. He was a specialist in Mexico where he worked as an independent contractor consistently for 20 years.
Ward and Barb Birdsall met through friends in Tucson. They married in 1993 after Barb finished a postgraduate degree in English. They headed to Mexico and spent a year in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico; Barb teaching English and Ward successfully advancing a drilling site for gold outside of Culiacan. Here he had to negotiate permission to develop land according to local business and cultural values. He knew just enough Spanish and had sufficient wit to charm his way through any discussion. This endeavor launched many further trips and experiences around Mexico while Tucson became home for the next 25 years.
In 2015, they did the opposite of most couples in their 60’s by moving from the Arizona desert to the cool and snowy mountains of Clark, Colorado, just north of Steamboat Springs. Ward truly loved it there! For him there was nothing better than to drive back roads in any season or to watch the shadows lengthen across the valley toward the Zirkel Mountains. He enjoyed meeting friends at the Roadhouse, a local pub, entertaining with his dry sense of humor, sharing stories and exploits. He was generous in every way. Ward was a one of a kind guy. He will be missed.
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