21 Mar 2024

In Memoriam: Calvin (Herb) Ward (1933-2023)

Richard J. Wenning, Founding Editor (Retired) Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management; G. Allen Burton, Editor-in-Chief (Retired) Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Herb Ward showing off a fish

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) and the global environmental community are deeply saddened by the passing of Calvin (Herb) Ward. He was a true pioneer in the fields of environmental chemistry, engineering and wastewater science. Herb passed away peacefully at the age of 90 on 28 December 2023 at his home in Houston, Texas, a short distance from his beloved Rice University.

Herb’s groundbreaking work in groundwater and wastewater engineering, teaching and professional activities in service to countless government and research organizations inspired the growth of the environmental consulting industry and the evolution of the field of environmental toxicology. Herb was one of the original six founders of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), served on its first Board of Directors and, for 30 years, served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Society's esteemed international scientific journal, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, which he started.

Herb obtained his bachelor’s degree in agriculture and biology from the New Mexico State University, where many years later he would establish the Dr. Calvin “Herb” and Barbara Ward Endowed Interdisciplinary Chair in Environmental and Water Sciences, supporting faculty engaged in interdisciplinary work emphasizing water technology and environmental science. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Cornell University and a Master of Public Health from the University of Texas. He served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force from 1960 to 1963 and in the U.S. Air Force Reserve from 1955 to 1968. His professional career in academia began as a research scientist, physiologist and director of biogenerative life support systems research at the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

Herb began his extraordinary, nearly 50-year academic career at Rice University in 1966 as a member of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. He founded the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering in 1970 and served as its Chair for 22 years. In 2003, he briefly served as Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Herb played a pivotal role in establishing several of the university’s academic programs in environmental science and engineering and developing its internationally acclaimed program in environmental remediation technology. In 2013, Herb retired from teaching and department duties as the Foyt Family Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. His seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for science and student initiatives at Rice University kept him busy for many years after retirement.

During his time at Rice University, Herb was called upon often by Rice presidents, provosts and deans. He established and led several pioneering national research and maintained an active laboratory research program. He was the director of the Advanced Applied Environmental Technology Demonstration Facility, a Department of Defense (DoD)-funded and Rice-led program. He co-directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Substance Research Center/South and Southwest. He served as the National Center for Ground Water Research’s Director, a EPA Exploratory Research Center of Excellence at Rice University. He was the inaugural director of the Energy and Environmental Systems Institute at Rice University and the director of the EPA Superfund University Training Institute. Herb was a member of the EPA Science Advisory Board and served as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the DoD Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP).

Herb was associated with various professional organizations and received several notable awards and recognitions for his contributions to the field of engineering and science. In 1981, NASA recognized him for his distinguished performance in analyzing and preparing the first U.S. space shuttle environmental impact statement. He was also honored with the Charles Porter Award in 1986 and the Charles Thom Award in 2011 by the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology for his distinguished research contributions in the arena of industrial microbiology. In honor of Herb's leadership and dedication to the Society, SETAC created the Herb Ward Exceptional Service Award in 2000. In recognition of his contributions to the National Research Council, the National Academies of Science and Engineering named him a National Associate in 2004. The Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors and the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists bestowed the Frederick George Pohland Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Engineering and Science for Bridging Education, Research, and Practice on him in 2006. Herb was also awarded the Water Environment Federation McKee Medal for Achievement in Groundwater Restoration in 2007. He was recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus by New Mexico State University and a Distinguished Fellow of SETAC, the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) and the Society of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (SIMB).

Herb was renowned for his disciplined work routine at the university. He often arrived as early as six a.m. and often worked on Saturdays to catch up on reading, editing and writing. He had a highly distinguished research career, authoring or co-authoring more than 200 publications in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. He wrote or co-edited 30 books and monographs. Herb mentored Master's and Ph.D. students graduating from Rice University or the University of Texas School of Public Health, where he served as an adjunct professor until retirement. His guidance launched the careers of many who would later become leaders in the field of environmental and civil engineering.

Despite a busy academic and research work, Herb managed a travel schedule that would exhaust even the most seasoned traveler. His expertise in the biodegradation of industrial wastes and deep knowledge of chemistry and water quality were in high demand by companies, environmental agencies and universities. He frequently honored invitations to lecture on various environmental issues. It was not uncommon for him to fly from Houston to Washington, D.C., or another destination to give an invited guest lecture and return to Houston on the same day to be with his wife, Barbara, and their three sons and grandchildren, whom he loved dearly.

Working alongside Herb was an honor and privilege in our professional careers. As editors-in-chief of SETAC’s scientific journals, we worked closely together for many years. Herb mentored us through the creation and launch of SETAC’s second journal, IEAM, and provided guidance during our transitions as editors of both ET&C and IEAM. He instilled in us a problem-solving mindset and emphasized the importance of treating researchers’ work with respect. Herb taught us the significance of unbiased, objective, fair and rigorous peer review, and how to respectfully express disagreement. He also emphasized the importance of scientific communication and the need to present scientific ideas clearly and concisely in written form.

Reflecting on Herb's many achievements, I am proud of one accomplishment that both my daughter and I shared with him. In 2017, Herb led a two-year coordinated effort that involved scientists from 20 universities and professional organizations along the U.S. Gulf Coast to publish a two-volume, 1,800-page baseline assessment of environmental conditions in the northern Gulf of Mexico before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As Herb's editorial assistant, my daughter received calls from him seven days a week, sometimes at odd hours, with formatting and content-related instructions. Oftentimes, she handed the phone to me afterward. Herb would have questions or instructions for me, sometimes about the books and oftentimes the IEAM journal. He frequently contacted the editor-in-chief of the ET&C journal with advice and observations. His high standards for research and the work published in SETAC journals reflected the SETAC motto that he helped to establish – "Environmental Quality Through Science®."

Until recent years, we visited Herb every chance we could when traveling to Houston. We would have dinner, share stories, and listen to his advice well into the evening. Herb was a family man who loved his family deeply and adored his grandchildren. He always spoke with pride about the family retreat in Strawberry, Arkansas, and how it was always expanding with renovations and a never-ending list of chores. But most of all, he loved sharing stories about his time with his family and grandchildren. 

He was a tall and lanky Texan by our Northeast Yankee and Upper Midwest views of life in America. His energy was boundless. He could lecture on complex science and engage in lively debates with his peers, then spend time with students well into the night. His legacy will guide the field of environmental science and engineering for many years to come, and his achievements will serve as a guide for new discoveries. And like many others, we will miss him terribly.

Author's contact: [email protected]