After a long illness Willard (Ward) Cates, Jr. passed away on March 17, 2016. Ward was our friend, our colleague, and a giant force in public health.
Ward was born in Cleveland, OH, on November 16, 1942, and he grew up in Rye, NY. He graduated from Rye High School in 1960 and Yale University in 1964 with a Bachelor's degree in history. Ward completed combined MD and MPH degrees at Yale in 1971. Ward's love affair with Yale University and his classmates was sustained over a lifetime.
After a stint in the United States Army, Ward joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1974, the pivotal event in his professional life. Ward began training at the CDC at a time when abortion rights were a critical national topic. Ward and his colleagues demonstrated the profoundly positive effects of legal abortion services on women's health. Ward spent the rest of his life as a world-wide leader in family planning policy and research, and he wrote more than 100 articles on this topic.
From 1982 to 1992, Ward served as the director of the Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases at the CDC, and to this position he brought his vast knowledge of women's health. Ward revolutionized the division of sexually transmitted diseases and worked to integrate the division into the rest of the CDC; he introduced epidemiology as the “basic science” of public health and insisted on bringing scientific rigor to sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention programs. Using his vast knowledge of women's reproductive health, Ward expanded the work of the division to include STD sequelae, such as infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Ward took over the STD division at the beginning of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) pandemic; he played a critical role in defining the contribution of STDs to the spread of HIV, the phenomenon ultimately identified as “epidemiologic synergy.” From 1992 to 1995, Ward returned to the Epidemic Intelligence Service as director, allowing him to focus on the discipline of epidemiology that was so central to his thinking.
Ward was recruited to Family Health International (now FHI 360), in 1995, and was appointed as president and CEO in 1998. Ward spent the rest of his career at FHI. Working at FHI, Ward became a leader in the prevention of HIV. He launched the NIH Prevention Trials Network in (HPTN) 1999, and until his death, he played key roles in virtually every project related to HIV prevention whether behavioral or biological. In his last year, Ward worked tirelessly to promote a randomized controlled trial to better understand the role of hormonal contraception in the acquisition of HIV.
A brief summary of a lifetime of exceptional professional accomplishments cannot do justice to Ward Cates, the man. Ward was a positive force. He had terrific intellect, rare knowledge across several fields of biology and medicine, exceptional leadership skills, humility, equanimity, and humanity; he had a generosity of spirit that he shared with everyone he met. Ward was passionate in his research efforts, and his passion led to inception and completion of projects that improved health worldwide. Ward was a happy man. He was happy with his beloved family; he was happy with his friends (and nearly everyone who knew him announced themselves as his best friend); he was happy in his professional life; and he was happy with the contributions he made as a scientist and as a mentor. And in turn, his presence brought happiness to everyone who knew him and loved him.