Albert W. Ward, who was chief of Maryland's property tax assessments department for 43 years, died Monday of cancer at the Blakehurst retirement community in Towson. He was 92 and formerly lived in Roland Park.
Known as "Ab," the Salisbury native earned a law degree from Dickinson College in 1928 and was working as an attorney for a Baltimore casualty company when he was appointed to the old State Tax Commission in 1931, early in the Great Depression.
After the commission was disbanded, he became the first director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, which was created in 1959.
When he retired in 1974, the state's assessable tax base had risen to $24 billion from $2.5 billion in 1931.
In a 1973 interview, he explained to The Evening Sun the guiding principle of his work:
"In a rising real estate market, keeping assessments current means raising assessments. Without a corresponding drop in the tax rate on those assessments, this also means a stiffer bill for the taxpayer with each annual reassessment."
"He had a reputation for integrity and fairness," said Roger D. Redden, partner emeritus of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury. "Albert was a great lawyer who went into state service and we look at him as being representative of the highest order of professionalism.
"During the savings and loan scandals of the early 1960s, Gov. Millard Tawes went right to Albert because he had both intelligence and guts," Mr. Redden said.
In 1961, armed with a new state law, Mr. Ward was put in charge of regulating hundreds of savings and loan associations. In that job, which he did for nearly two years, he was named conservator of several ailing S&Ls and revoked the charters of dozens of inactive building and loan associations.
Some of the thrifts, he discovered, were fraudulently created and underfinanced. Several top S&L officials were indicted and convicted.
Mr. Ward was appointed in 1949 to the Maryland Tax Survey Commission, also known as the Case Commission, and one of its recommendations led to the establishment of the Maryland Tax Court, which hears appeals from the decisions of any state agency or assessing or taxing authority.
Mr. Ward developed the plan under which the state became responsible for the assessing process rather than the counties, and assessors were hired for their qualifications rather than their political connections.
"His legacy is that he was an exceptional administrator who ran an agency that is frequently unpopular well, and he had both the respect of governors and the legislature," said Gene L. Burner, who headed Assessments and Taxation from 1980 to 1990.
Mr. Redden recalled Mr. Ward's manner in handling assessment appeals.
"He was not a colorful man, but not a man without a sense of humor. He had a genial smile but was buttoned up and sat with all the dignity of an Episcopal bishop," Mr. Redden said. "But none of that really matters. When you were before Albert, you knew that you had gotten a fair judgment and had been treated fairly and in an equitable manner."
Mr. Ward, a lifelong Democrat, "was one of those guys who understood politics but didn't play politics. He was always able to resist the outside political pressure," Mr. Redden said.
Mr. Ward's first wife, the former Virginia Phillips, died in 1978. In 1981, he married Polly Drewry Warfield, who died in 1982.
Mr. Ward enjoyed golfing and duck hunting. He was a member of the Maryland Club, the Elkridge Club, the Society of Colonial Wars and the Sons of the American Revolution.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. today at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on U.S. 50 in Hebron, Wicomico County. A memorial service will be held at 10: 30 a.m. Monday in the chapel of Baltimore's Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.
He is survived by three nieces, Jennifer Martin of Ocean City, Judith West of Lewes, Del., and Sallie Stutz of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pub Date: 4/30/98