“Jack’s footprints are all over East Texas highways,” Randy Brogoitti said about his friend and fellow Texas Department of Transportation committee member Jack Ward.
One of those highways was Highway 31, and soon the portion between Hwy. 42 and Smith County will be known as the Jack Ward Memorial Highway.
The Texas Legislature approved the designation, which took effect Sept. 1, and the Gregg County Commissioners Court unveiled the sign during Wednesday’s meeting.
Looking at the sign, Ward’s son, Scott, said, “I think the fact that people are here today to honor him is amazing. Dad would be embarrassed and humbled by this honor. I promise you, he would be embarrassed and humbled.”
During the meeting, he added, the family is honored by the designation and thanked everyone who made it possible from those who donated to Rep. Jay Dean, who sponsored the bill in the Legislature.
“He might take issue with the burnt orange sign as a Baylor Bear, but I know that he would be truly honored, and the family’s honored,” Ward said.
Jack Ward died last December following a head-on collision on Highway 31 that killed his son-in-law Mark Tippitt and seriously injured Ward’s daughter, Traci Tippitt.
“It’s sad to have to do this where Jack can’t see it. It’s a happy sad day,” Brogoitti said. “But no one deserves it any more than Jack does and his family.”
Brogoitti said he and Ward, who served on multiple TxDOT committees together, traveled to Corsicana for one of the first Highway 31 meetings intended to help improve the roadway from Waco to Kilgore and Longview.
“It’s been an ongoing process ever since, so Jack was involved specifically with Highway 31 for over 30 years, and the irony that he died on it. It’s unreal,” Brogoitti said.
Some of the projects Ward was involved with through the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce, Gregg County and TxDOT were improvements to Highway 135 from Liberty City to Gladewater and Highway 42 up to White Oak. Both of those projects are moving forward.
In addition to his involvement with TxDOT, Ward ran an insurance agency, was a member of the Kilgore City Commission – now the Kilgore City Council – and president of the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce.
While the designation will honor Ward’s work on East Texas roads, Gregg County Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd said, it also recognizes the safety needs that must continue to be addressed on Highway 31.
“Most and foremost, we simply wanted to honor our friendship with Jack,” he said.
Boyd said his relationship with Ward goes back to the mid-1970s, noting their families were close and Ward handled Boyd’s insurance as well.
“We’ve vacationed together. We played golf together. We’ve shared a million meals together. We kind of had a standing deal where we went to the Fisherman’s Market and split a bucket of oysters… We’ve just all got our stories and our things where we’ve connected with Jack through the years,” Boyd said.
Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt added, “Pretty much everybody he met was a friend. He was a very good man. Gregg County was lucky to have him.”
Although Dean could not attend the Commissioners Court meeting in Longview, Stoudt read a statement from the state representative.
“Not only was Mr. Ward a respected business man, he was a pillar of the Kilgore community, most known for his civic and charitable contributions… In consultation with members of the Kilgore community, it was immediately apparent that something needed to be done to honor Jack’s memory,” Stoudt read from the statement. “With the support of the community members, we determined to rename a portion of Highway 31 outside his beloved hometown of Kilgore the Jack Ward Memorial Highway. With Jack’s impressive record of public service, it was easy to persuade my colleagues that Jack was deserving of this honor.”
Markers will be placed at the intersection of Highway 31 and Highway 42 in Kilgore, on Highway 31 at the Smith County line and “at appropriate intermediate sites along the highway,” according to the bill introduced by Dean.
“I’m honored. It’s remarkable,” Traci Tippitt said before the meeting. “I knew that my dad was great, but this is a testament of his legacy, and it makes me very proud. He loved life; he loved people, and he did a lot of work for this highway. It’s an honor.”