A Life of Adventure: The Fascinating Tales of a Small Town English Teacher
The life and times of Marshall alumna Randi D. Ward, a retired Language Arts teacher from metro-Atlanta, can best be summed up in a single quote about her life’s work.
“All of my stories must have happy endings. In my opinion, we need more happy endings in our troubled and crazy world. Books are for dreamers, like me,” she said.
It is a statement that Ward takes to heart in all that she does in life.
Ward is a dreamer. She is a traveler. She is a teacher, a creator and an artist. Ward is a small-town girl from Moundsville, West Virginia, who turned a passion for life into a career that has taken her from the classrooms of Marshall to the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the plains of Africa, and everywhere in between.
She has traveled the world, sharing her passion for the written and spoken word. Even today, Ward continues to help others in meaningful and truly impactful ways. And she has done it all thanks to a fascinating career brought about by a passion to chase the unknown.
“Even though I was an excellent student as a child, I was secretly shy. I participated in many school clubs, and choir but never felt as if I was a true leader. I always felt as if I was living in the shadow of others,” Ward said of her childhood ambitions. “Attending Marshall provided me the confidence I needed to grow as the strong woman I am today. I met and married Bill (Ward), the love of my life, a few months after receiving my B.A. This amazing man supported me and convinced me I had talents I did not know I had. Because of him, I started dreaming bigger and bigger and taking the needed risks to achieve my dreams.
“Being patient and never giving up are essential. Obtaining the success desired takes time as well as hard work. For most of us, success does not happen overnight. Ups and downs will occur. Getting through the hard or slow times requires taking a deep breath, believing in one’s ultimate goal, and then moving on with a new plan if necessary.”
That philosophy has carried Ward to heights that even she never dreamed were possible.
Ward worked more than 37 years in the teaching profession. She graduated from Marshall University in 1971 with a B.A. in Language Arts and helped pioneer the Talented and Gifted Program at the university in the mid-1970s. She taught for one year in Marshall County, West Virginia, and 17 years in Cabell County schools before moving to Georgia in 1989 where she would finish out her teaching career in Dekalb and Gwinnett counties.
But that is far from the end of this story.
Upon retirement, Ward engaged in a collection of fascinating endeavors that have taken her all over the world. She spent time in Cairo, Egypt, during its revolution teaching English to young Egyptian students. She has spent time in Africa as an animal activist. Today, she is a published author, a book writing consultant and editor, a motivational speaker, and a world traveler. And she has accomplished all of this, oddly enough, out of sheer boredom with the daily grind of a normal life.
“To be honest, I get bored easily,” Ward said with a laugh. “When I retired as an educator in May of 2008, I was so excited at first. My last year of teaching was one of my most enjoyable, but 37 years was enough. I thought retirement would be a slower, more relaxing pace of life. However, after the first few months, I was miserable. I had no purpose. My husband and I traveled, which was great, but even that was not enough. My son Mark suggested I join Facebook in 2010 and that led me to my next career.”
That next career, spearheaded by a move to Cairo in 2012, proved to be a true turning point in her life. It was an experience, she said, that was unlike any other and helped shape who she is today. From that trip was born a book, Because I Believed In Me (My Egyptian Fantasy Come True) published in 2013, and countless other stories that she uses in her daily work, as well as lifelong friendships and even a few cultural and personal discoveries that she carries with her today.
“How and where do I begin to tell the story of my brief time in Egypt, the ancient land of pharaohs and the pyramids. Since my first visit to Egypt in July of 1996, I had always had a passion for the region and its amazing treasures and the spirit of the Egyptian people,” Ward said. “In 2011 I met a Facebook friend who told me about an English training center called SYE (Spread Your English) he was organizing, and he invited me to come teach at the school. Even though I was retired, I missed teaching very much, so the thought of teaching again and in a country I admired so much became extremely appealing to me.
“In 2011 I boarded a flight to Cairo and began the grandest and most spectacular adventure of my life. I really had no idea what was ahead of me. I just knew in my heart I was meant to do this.”
What followed was a whirlwind few months in the city.
With Cairo in the thick of a revolution at the time, Ward often found herself in the midst of violent protests and clashes with the government in between teaching university and graduate students the English language. She did her best to blend in during her time in the country, witnessing firsthand the constantly changing political climate in this revolutionary period in Egyptian history, before returning home to Georgia in early 2012.
While in the country, she took part in many unique and life-changing activities. She celebrated with millions of Egyptians in Tahrir Square on the first-year anniversary of their Independence Day. She cruised the Nile River and explored the museums and pyramids, all with the protests serving as a backdrop of her time in the city.
The adventure served as the focal point of her book and remains a central theme of many of her other works and of additional writings she is currently working on.
“It was my great desire to do something to help Egyptian students in some small way become more fluent in English and possibly help them find international jobs. Little did I know that this would all take place as a backdrop of a second revolution that began shortly after my arrival,” Ward said. “The next three months of my life were not easy, were extremely busy, often exhausting and sometimes upsetting and sad, but never dull. The exciting and interesting things I experienced and the people with whom I met and shared my life and time will be implanted in my heart forever.
“The generous and loving Egyptians opened their hearts and their homes to me and taught me how to become an Egyptian woman.”
After finishing her book, Ward again found herself involved in an endeavor in the region where she opened an English/German language center in Cairo with two former Egyptian students called Rise Up. Later, she opened a nursery school with another close friend where she helped teach children from her Georgia home using video technology. While both locations were eventually forced to close due to continued economic problems in the region, Ward does not consider either school a failure but rather another opportunity to grow.
“During my 37 years of service as a public school teacher in West Virginia and Georgia, and later during my time in Egypt, it was important to me not only to teach the course content, but to incorporate life skills and values essential to being a good person,” Ward said. “I taught with love and kindness, always encouraging my students to do their best. My students knew they could come to me if they needed to talk, and many did just that. I am still friends with many former students, and I am proud to follow their future as a teacher and a mentor.”
While not actively involved in the area any longer, Ward has many projects ongoing in countries from Africa to the U.K. Among the projects that she has been involved in are an African animal conservation group in Kenya, a reforesting project alongside a close friend in Cairo, two nonprofit international women’s organizations based in London and even an online magazine called Morocco Pens dedicated to promoting non-native English writers to write poems, essays, and stories in English.
Throughout her life, Ward has had the opportunity to visit more than 60 countries, an experience not lost on someone from a small town in West Virginia where dreams of faraway lands are sometimes nothing more than just that.
“As a little girl growing up in Moundsville, I often fantasized about seeing the world – places like Paris, Rome, and London. No one in my family really shared my dream to travel, but I knew one day when I was an adult, I would find a way to do this,” Ward said. “Traveling for me is more than just visiting the tourist attractions. I love meeting and interacting with the locals, sampling the cuisine of the area, learning about their culture, and becoming a part of the area.”
Additionally, Ward credits her time at Marshall as a catalyst to her blossoming from a shy, young freshman to a woman ready to conquer the world. In fact, Ward comes from a long line of Marshall University graduates including her mother, aunts and uncles and even her husband, who passed away in 2019 after 47 years of marriage.
“My family were responsible for instilling my love for Marshall as a child. I was valedictorian of my Moundsville high school class of 1967, and I could have applied and been accepted at other universities, but I only applied to Marshall. Marshall was the university I knew in my heart was the perfect school for me,” Ward said. “I have many fond memories of my time at Marshall, from concerts and football games to dear friendships. In fact, three of the Laidley ladies were my bridesmaids. I also met and dated my husband while I was a graduate student.
“However, during my senior year our football team died in the airplane crash in 1970. It is one of those days in your life you always remember clearly. As the 50th anniversary approaches on November 14, my thoughts often reflect on that horrible day and the sadness that followed for Huntington and our Marshall community.
“Many years later, my husband and I proudly participated as extras in the We Are Marshall movie when Warner Bros. was filming at the football stadium in Atlanta, and we also attended the red carpet movie premier in Atlanta. Being able to represent Marshall alumni in this special way was a huge honor for us.
“Marshall helped me to find myself. I went from being a shy, silly teenage girl to a confident woman and a teacher, the career path that God meant for me to take.”
For her many years of teaching excellence, Ward has received numerous awards and recognitions throughout her career, highlighted by her being named the Educator of the Decade by the International Association of Top Professionals earlier this year. Her list of honors range in everything from recognition for her writing, to her time teaching and even for her innovative practices in the industry.
Today, Ward continues to help others through her time mentoring and educating. She continues to write herself, publishing numerous stories, poems, magazine articles, interesting quips on her website – even song lyrics – and has several works in the pipeline she hopes to publish in the future. Ward has also jumped into the digital space, running a YouTube channel and connecting with others on social media.
“When I wrote my book, I discovered a new talent I never knew I had,” Ward said. “I guess all those years I taught writing to my students I taught myself as well.”
Through it all, Ward has never forgotten where she came from, as evident by her personal life motto, which she had trademarked several years ago. The motto goes, “Believe! Don’t dream big; dream bigger. The sky is the limit so reach for the stars!”
“Believe and dream have always been key words in my life. My high school valedictorian speech was about believing in oneself. I always look to the future and constantly ask myself what else can I pursue,” Ward said. “The sky is the limit. I am a forever teacher, but I will also always be a forever student. There is so much more to learn and to explore and to experience. As long as I am able to do that, I will never stop.”