Former BAO assay master Bernard Ward passes away


Ward remembered for transforming the running of the assay office.

The Birmingham Assay Office (BAO) has announced the death of its former assay master Bernard Ward OBE, following a long-term illness.

Ward was well known in both the Birmingham and wider UK jewellery communities, holding the role of assay master at the BAO for 15 years until his retirement in 1998.

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During his time at the helm of the Birmingham Assay Office, Ward reinvigorated the business, encouraging progress through expansion and exemplary customer service, acquired new equipment and boosting team effort to position Birmingham as the largest assay office in the UK in just three years.

Ward was born in Sheffield and despite passing the test for Grammar School, decided to turn it down to. He said previously: "I passed the test for grammar school, but turned it down. I knew my grandfather couldn’t afford it and to save him the embarrassment I said that I wasn’t interested in going. Since then I have worked really hard to get what I wanted, because I knew that nothing would be handed to me on a plate."

At 17 Ward was recognised by his school headmaster for his skills in chemistry and physics, and in 1951 his headmaster won an interview for Ward which commenced his career in the precious metals business, working for the Sheffield Smelting Company.

He took an immediate interest in the business and started attending night classes to qualify for university where he obtained a degree in metallurgy.

Ward managed to study while playing professional football at Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough United, devoting his wages and spare time to getting his education and preparing for life after the game.

27 years after he joined Sheffield Smelting as a lab assistant, he was named managing director of the company. Ward was also became director of operations at Engelhard Industries in Chessington, overseeing 1,000 people.

In 1983, the American owner of Sheffield Smelting announced its plans to move out of the smelting business and to close the Sheffield operations. Ward convinced them to let him try and sell the business rather than close it down. He did just as he said, saving 450 jobs, before moving to Birmingham Assay Office.

He said at the time: "I’ve always said that business is about people. I’ve been there myself, I can identify with the working people and I just couldn’t face up to seeing all those people made redundant".

Bernard retired as assay master of the Birmingham Assay Office at Christmas 1998. In a very emotional moment he told everyone at the Assay Office that they held a great place in his heart, "my other family" as he described them, and at a big bash thrown in his honour, he was given a standing ovation worthy of a monarch.

The BAO described him as "an exceptional man who truly stamped his mark on the UK jewellery industry".

In recognition of his hard work and achievements and for services to the jewellery industry, Bernard Ward received an OBE at Buckingham Palace on May 20 1999, the day of his 65th Birthday.

Ward his survived by his widow Margaret and his children Val and Michael. His funeral will take place place on Saturday March 23 at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium in Sheffield.

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