I first met Mollyana Ward at what was then called a Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce event somewhere between three and four years ago.
Mollyana, Jannah and I became close pretty quickly — she was fun, outgoing, smart and she was very interested in helping me with what was then a fledgling idea I had about starting a video program for YouTube and Facebook.
I didn’t meet Mollyana’s husband Rick until a few months later and Jannah and I never spent as much time with him as we did his wife, but there was just something special about the guy. He was super laid back and soft-spoken — which doesn’t always mesh well with my loud, Type A New York personality — but it was hard not to notice how much he loved his wife, his three sons, God, people and life in general.
Like most couples who have raised children together, he and Mollyana had some issues over the years, but one thing was certain — Rick was convinced he “married up” when he married the love of his life.
Three years ago, at the party at our office where Jannah and I first got engaged, not only did I get to know Rick a lot better, I witnessed something that forever changed how I looked at this man.
It was a simple act of kindness. Although the music was playing and adults beverages were being served outside in the parking lot, the food was in my office on the second floor — and even though there is an elevator in the building, the party was at night and the people who occupy the office downstairs had all gone for the day, so there was no access to the elevator.
And, it just so happened that I had a friend in attendance who was in a wheelchair who had no way to get up the stairs to check out the food or even use the restroom.
Rick saw my friend at the bottom of the stairs and immediately sized up the situation. Even though no one asked him to do so — and there were plenty of other men at the party (including yours truly) who could have offered — Rick asked my friend if it was OK if he carried her up the stairs and she got a big smile on her face. So did I.
He then carried her up the double flight of stairs, put her in a chair in the office, went back downstairs, carried the wheelchair up the stairs, put her gently back in it, and said to her, “When you’ve had enough to eat and want to go back downstairs, I got you.”
I’m an emotional guy anyway, but I immediately felt tears running down my face. It was such a beautiful gesture — and moment — that summed up the measure of this sweet man. And yes, when she was ready, he put her back in an office chair, carried the wheelchair back down the stairs, carried her down the stairs and put her back in the wheelchair.
Unfortunately, although Mollyana, Rick, Jannah and I did get to spend some more time together after that, it was a little over a year ago that Rick was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after suffering a seizure. Multiple surgeries and treatments (and an infection) later, without seeing the improvement in his quality of life they were hoping for, Mollyana and Rick decided to literally put the rest of his life in God’s hands.
And, although we and many of his other friends and family members did get to spend more quality time with him over the last several months of his life, it was hard for everyone to see him slowly deteriorate. Even so, you could tell how strong his faith still was because the Wards all believed with all their hearts that even though he couldn’t defeat cancer, he wasn’t going to let cancer defeat him either. He didn’t just believe — he knew in his heart and soul that even though he was going to leave this life before they would, they would all be reunited one day in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jannah and I got back from New York City the evening of Oct. 29, and Mollyana posted on Facebook that Rick had passed away (at age 49) the following morning. His passing was devastating, but also merciful because those last few weeks were particularly tough on his family, especially Mollyana as his primary caregiver. Her efforts to keep him comfortable were truly amazing.
Rick’s Celebration of Life was held Nov. 4 at the First Baptist Church of Wesley Chapel, and he was buried in the church’s small adjacent cemetery, a few hundred feet from where he often taught Sunday school.
And, Rick’s neverending acts of kindness towards others was a primary recurring theme of the service, as a few of his family members, friends and business associates talked about not only his faith, but of his love for Mollyana, his sons Ricky, Nick and Jack, and his entire family.
I thanked one of his friends who spoke at the ceremony and told him the story about my friend and the party. He thanked me for telling him, but added, “You notice from the look on my face that I’m not at all surprised. That’s just the kind of man he is.”
The kind of man I’m proud to have called my friend, even though I never did get to know him as well as I would have liked. I was glad he was at least able to enjoy mine and Jannah’s wedding in March (photo).
Rest in Peace, Rick. We all miss you.