A chilly rainfall dampened the weather outside but family, friends and colleagues sought to brighten their spirits inside as they celebrated the life of the late Hyattsville Mayor Kevin “Scooter” Ward.
Interim Mayor Robert Croslin chuckled as he recalled the mayor’s predilection for tennis shoes, affectionately calling him “a sneakerhead.”
“Some people collect art. That was his collection,” he said Friday, Feb. 4 outside First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville.
Former Democratic National Committee chair and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez said he first met Ward at Franklin’s, a brewery, restaurant and general store in Hyattsville.
Perez pinned a purple ribbon on his suit jacket which symbolized Ward’s favorite color.
“That was the last place I spent time with him,” he said. “I will summon my inner Kevin to bring communities together and have us understand that what unites far outweighs our differences. I look at the bridges he was able to build with so many communities. He was able to do so much for so many.”
The 44-year-old mayor committed suicide on Jan. 25, which the city announced on its website, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. According to various reports, U.S. Park Police found Ward in a park in McLean, Va. less than 20 miles from Hyattsville.
Although there remain unanswered questions as to why he took his own life, City Administrator Tracey Douglas said his death should inspired others to seek help when necessary.
“We all have to watch out for each other and take care of each other and love each other and tell us how they are doing,” she said. “We are all grappling with it. We are all devastated. We are going to carry his vision forward.”
Part of Ward’s legacy begins at home as the city’s first openly-gay mayor and the second Black elected to the position in May. His community service work included the city’s police officers receiving mandatory mental health counseling that began a few months ago.
Ward participated in weekly food distributions and helped secure a COVID-19 vaccination site for residents at First United Methodist Church.
Hyattsville City Council member Danny Schaible said he’ll remember Ward most as a father.
Ward and his husband, Chad Copeland, moved to the city in 2014 along with their two adopted sons, Norman and Sydney.
Schaible, who has a special needs child, said he immediately noticed Ward’s affection for children like his.
“That speaks volumes about his character and he provided support to the maximum extent that he could because he saw what I was going through as a father,” he said. “He was always thinking of others first.”
Ward grew up as an only child in the suburbs of Dallas. He graduated from the University of Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
A colorful program summarizing Ward’s “celebration of life” outlined he returned to Dallas every summer to Camp RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award), a leadership program designed to mentor incoming high school seniors. He participated in the camp growing up.
Ward and his husband married in 2007 and moved to D.C. where Ward worked as chief information officer for the city’s child welfare system. He then directed technology for KIPP DC, the city’s public charter school network. He later joined EastBanc Technologies to work with schools, financial institutions and other organizations on software development.
In 2015, Ward decided to enter local politics and voters elected him to the city council. That same year, the city became the second municipality in the country to allow 16-year-old teenagers to vote in city elections, which included Ward’s oldest son, Sydney, then 16.
Two years later, Ward’s colleagues nominated him to serve as council vice president. In 2019, he became council president.
During the funeral service, Stephanie Oriabure described when she and Ward met on the Texas A&M campus as freshmen in 1995. She moved to the D.C. region around 2007, the same year as Ward and Copeland.
“I had no idea then that when Kevin and I became friends, it was a life sentence . . . full of love, laughter, sorrow and indescribable joy,” she said. “I could have easily earned a degree in Kevinism. Some of you know Kevin as a mentor, or as a neighbor, as a colleague, or as the mayor. For me, he was simply my friend. I am grateful for our life sentence of friendship. A sentence that ended too soon.”
NOTE: If you or someone you know continues to endure emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-272-8255. In Maryland, you can dial 2-1-1. Locally in Prince George’s County, residents can call the crisis hotline at 301-429-2185. For more information, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.