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'I still can't believe it:' Family, school mourning after Fayetteville art teacher dies of COVID-19

Mary Ward, who taught elementary art at Fayetteville's Capitol Encore Academy, died Friday of the coronavirus, superintendent Will Kneer said.

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Kirsten Gutierrez
Aaron Thomas, WRAL reporters
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Mary Ward, who taught elementary art at Fayetteville's Capitol Encore Academy, died Friday of the coronavirus, Superintendent Will Kneer said.

Ward’s family said she had underlying health issues like diabetes. The family says a blood clot was found in her lung.

“That’s what she passed away from,” said Ward’s daughter, Hannah Robbins. “They say that’s what they see in a lot of COVID patients, but the biggest thing we wanna focus on is her life and who she was as a person, teacher a friend, a mother.”

“I brought my mom to the hospital thinking she was going to survive this,” said Kaitlyn Ward, Mary Ward's daughter.

After the news of her death, a makeshift memorial was made outside of the charter school Ward taught at for two-and-a-half years.

“She loved her art and I just loved and admired her for that. She just shined when she did her art,” her husband Jerry described.

“She would go in and touch so many lives at her school, and everyone she came in contact with, she left something of her on them … like an impact,” added Kaitlyn Ward.

Capitol Encore Academy was holding classes with about half of the students learning in person and the other half online. Kneer said families were notified when Ward tested positive and the school was closed. About 100 people – students and staff from six classrooms – were advised to quarantine because they had some contact with Ward.

On Monday night, school board members voted to move all instruction online until Jan. 4 after a board member said he had received a notification from a parent that a child had also tested positive for the virus.

Kneer said school officials do not believe Ward contracted the virus at the school.

“We don’t really know [where she got the virus] because she never really went out. She definitely wore her mask, she definitely hand sanitized. She did everything the CDC told us to,” said Robbins.

Jerry Ward said he is still in disbelief over his wife’s death.

“I still can’t believe it, it’s just horrible. She was my best friend. We’ve been together for and known each other for over 30 years … I just really miss her,” he added.

“It was like my soul just left my body, and I was just free falling, and I still haven’t gained that in equilibrium back yet,” said Joshua Ward, Mary Ward’s son.

Family and friends said her death shines a light on the risk of contracting coronavirus.

“I’ve told people to take COVID seriously. I personally did not at first and I’ll be the first to admit that, but then I lost my best friend to that, so I know now that it’s not something to joke about,” said Robbins. “I would rather wear a mask than have to grieve somebody, so I do recommend taking it seriously so you don’t have to feel the pain of losing someone to close to you.”

While the school will be closed until 2021, personal messages remain for Mary Ward.

“(She) was just a real positive light in our school, definitely someone who has been a culture and morale leader since they got there — someone who really touched the lives of every student and every staff member that was there, a wonderful teacher and honestly wonderful human being and someone who the community is currently going to feel the loss,” Kneer told the Fayetteville Observer.

“You never realize how precious life is until you lose somebody that you loved so deeply, so I urge everybody to just be kind,” said Robbins.

Jerry Ward encouraged anyone missing his wife that she would want them to “smile and continue doing your art.”


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