A good man died last week. John Henry Ward was 64, known mostly as a two-sport star at OSU, football and wrestling, back in the he-man days of the 1960s.
But Ward was more than that. Ward was an Oklahoma hero. The real kind.
In a den of vipers, Ward stood tall. In perhaps the biggest political corruption case in Oklahoma history, the County Commissioners scandal of 30 years ago, Ward was an honest man.
“John was a brave, dedicated Oklahoman,” said Tom Daxon, our state auditor and inspector from 1979-83. “At a time when county government was rife with corruption, John, almost alone, conducted himself honestly.”
After an NFL career that included five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Ward returned to northeast Oklahoma (he grew up in Tulsa) and became a Delaware County commissioner.
Bill Price was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma and led the prosecution in the County Commissioners scandal, which led to more than 200 convictions for kickbacks.
Price said the feds joked that their operation was called Diogenes, after the mythical Greek cynic who carried a lamp in the daylight, claiming to look for an honest man.
Price's investigation uncovered suppliers who were bribing commissioners. Price said when the FBI began flipping those suppliers, they would have long lists of commissioners. The lists would be grouped by honest and dishonest.
Price said the lists might be 60 names strong. Maybe five of the 60 would be labeled honest. And Ward's name would always be among the honest.