Ray Ward, ancestor of Northside affordable housing trailblazer Harriet Henson and “Mayor of Northview Heights,” Reginald Ward, on his humble beginnings and how his community helped to shape his leadership and work ethic.
By Frederick A. Hasney IV
Photo: Ray Ward grew up on Brighton Place in California-Kirkbride, where he says his family and community helped to support him, shape his lifestyle and personality, and keep him safe. Much of the neighborhood revitalization done in this area was started by his aunt, Harriet Henson. By Frederick A. Hasney IV
The Northside has been and continues to be a thriving section of the city that is home to many inspiring people across the sectors of art, politics, business, and culture. One of these individuals is Ray Ward, who has been a lifelong resident of the community and a hardworking professional.
Born at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), Ward’s roots in the Northside are firmly planted and have continued to flourish—something he is particularly proud of.
His humble beginnings started on Brighton Place in California-Kirkbride where he was surrounded by influential figures, such as his aunt Harriet Henson, a trailblazer for affordable housing in the Northside, and his grandfather Reginald Ward, known as the “Mayor of Northview Heights.” Henson, former executive director of Northside Tenants Reorganization (NTR), sought to revitalize sections of the city, including Brighton Place, as a way to provide decent housing at an affordable rate for low and moderate-income residents. She is memorialized in a mural of influential figures situated at the end of Brighton Place. Ray Ward gets his leadership skills and work ethic from his aunt, he said, and his people skills from his grandfather. Reginald Ward was a role model and father figure to many people on the Northside. He will be forever remembered for swearing in former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy in 1994.
Ray said that his family and community helped to support him, shaped his lifestyle and personality, and kept him safe. He has achieved many of the successes he always dreamed of, he said, and his spirit and determination have helped him to set his sights on the next challenges ahead.
A lifetime of neighborhood change
In October, Ray took a drive with The Northside Chronicle through the neighborhood where he grew up.
“I had mixed emotions.,” he said of the experience. “It was sad riding through and not seeing my cousin who passed a couple years back, but it also brought joy to see the community thriving.”
In his early life, Ray spent much time at Allegheny Center Alliance Church (ACAC) and said it left a significant impact on him. It was here that he learned about the Bible and faith; in addition, he was able to socialize with many children his age during pick-up basketball games and church trips.
After graduating from David B. Oliver High School, now Oliver Citywide Academy, he was uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life. Ray was sure that college was not the correct path for him, but he knew that it was vital to get a job and begin his career. Luckily, in 2004, a friend recommended that he apply for a position at The Westin Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Before long, he was making a name for himself and looking to expand into higher positions.
The hospitality industry
Within the hospitality industry, Ray learned how a business functions, and what was expected of him as he climbed the corporate ladder. Much of his success and knowledge, he said, can be attributed to having impactful role models who encouraged him to grow as a professional. He pointed to community leaders including Dave Williams, owner of Dave’s Barber Shop and Jamie Younger, owner of Young Brothers Bar as individuals who pushed him to strive for his greatest potential.
Ray has worked at many of the well-known hotels in both downtown Pittsburgh and the Northside, such as The Westin Pittsburgh, the Cambria Hotel near PPG Paints Arena, and the Sheraton Pittsburgh Hotel in Station Square, where, as the director of banquets, he said he supervised over 200 events annually—nearly a hundred of them full-scale weddings. Between 2004 and 2012, Ray said he was promoted five times, with each of his positions carrying more responsibilities than the last. Each one of them, he said, was a challenge to overcome rather than a burden.
His most rewarding and engaging job opportunity was when he worked as a catering and premium service manager for Aramark. There, he focused on managing catering services at Heinz Field and was tasked with working closely with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ food and beverage organizations.
Ray has been nominated for and received a number of awards and accolades for his work, notably the 2016 Sheraton Manager of the Year Award and the 2017 Connie Parker Community Service Award.
In August 2020, Ray began working on the Priory Management Team while transitioning into a new position as assistant general manager at the new Comfort Inn & Suites in the heart of the Northside. This latest venture is important, he said, because it brings him back home to where everything started.
In November, Ray launched a rental service called Northside Tables and Chairs Rental Company. He wants to create a service for people looking to host weddings and private events by providing a reliable product at a reasonable cost.
“I wanted to harness my career goals and take them to the next level,” he said.
“My biggest inspiration to push right now is my family, my fiance, my two sons—somewhere where I can leave my legacy. They are my rock.”