Love Local, Concord: Matt Ward

Hello everyone, my name is Matt Ward. I’m a longtime Concord resident
and teacher at the Fenn school on Monument Street, the place where I
grew up. I’m honored to be here with you all today to talk about my
mom, Lorraine Garnett Ward, who passed away from cancer 7 years ago.
As importantly, I’m honored to celebrate the amazing work of Runway for
Recovery led by Olivia Achtmeyer Boger. Olivia has been a friend of my
family for many years, and was basically like the daughter my mother
never had, of course until her daughters in law showed up, but suffice is
to say, she loved them all deeply, and the connection here runs deep.
Olivia, it’s been unbelievable to witness what you’ve been able to
accomplish in the 17 years since you started Runway. You are a true
dynamo. This event is just one more testament to your ongoing pursuit of
connecting and supporting families in positive ways when dealing with
this awful disease while uplifting community. Let’s give it up for Olivia.
So, it was 2009 when I first strutted my stuff for Runway. My brothers
and I had gotten to know Olivia and her sisters well from living in
Concord, working at summer camp together, and frequenting each other’s
homes for parties and general mischief in the early aughts. I was in my
senior year of college when Olivia started Runway. A few months earlier
my mother had been diagnosed with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer.
At the time Runway started was a bit surreal for me. My life had
changed. My family had been given the grim diagnosis that my mom had
just a few months to live, yet there she was at the first fashion show
dancing along with the others on the road to remission. Little did we know
that, thanks to the truly amazing work of the people at MGH, namely
Doctor Jerry Younger, and Nurse Practitioner, Nancy Schafer and that
my mother would survive another 10 years. I am forever grateful to the
team at MGH as I’m sure are all the other families who have been in their

SO.. my mom was an incredible person. Born in 1948, a child of WWII
veterans, my mom’s parents had met in Lorraine France where they were
dispatched during the war (hence the name). My grandfather was a tall
quirky man who had grown up dirt poor in the Hill Country of Texas,
while my grandmother was the tiny, but mighty oldest daughter of Italian
immigrants who had settled in Wakefield MA. My grandparents moved

back to my grandmother’s neighborhood after the war to build a home
and family together around my grandmother’s extended family of
Benedettos like so many other families at that time. We called their
neighborhood growing up the “Guinea Gulch” – there was Italian family
coming out of the woodwork, and plenty of food, laughter and
construction equipment to go around. I tell you all of this because my
mother was so proud of her heritage, her parents humble beginnings, her
immigrant roots, her Italian American culture and how, through
generations of hard work and love, she was able to pursue the life she
wanted. Growing up my mom took on all the responsibilities required of
an eldest daughter in the family, namely caring for her two younger
siblings, cooking, cleaning, running errands for her grandparents, who
hardly spoke English, and tending to the animals at their farm, but none
of that ever distracted her from her true love and passion: learning. She
was a straight A student who would have been the valedictorian of
Wakefield high, but since it was the 1960s, even though she had the
highest GPA in her graduating class, that honor went to a boy. This was
one of the many moments that affirmed her feminist philosophy and led
her to Mount Holyoke, an all women’s college.
My mom graduated Mount Holyoke with a degree in theology, then went
on to pursue her masters in Education and philosophy at McGill in
Montreal; where she would remain for 7 years. She’d eventually leave
Montreal with a slew of life experiences, to make her way back to Boston,
where she met my father, got married and started her own family and
became the dean of the First Year experience at Wellesley college. One
of the gifts my mom and Dad provided us as children was being mmersed
in school communities. Our childhoods were spent between Wellesley
college’s campus and St. Sebastians, and then the Fenn school where my
Dad was the Head for 25 years and where my mom became the unofficial
My mom made it her life’s work to be the center of her family and the
spiritual center of the school communities of which she was a part. She
was an avid reader. A lover of poetry and literature. But most of all she
was a people person. She believed deeply in radical transparency, and I
mean radical. Like, within minutes of my mom meeting our future
spouses, she said to my brothers and me, “Don’t screw this up. You need
to marry this woman.” In front of them, mind you. She never held back.
Years prior, when I was a younger kid at the cardealership, she said to

the salesman, “I love you. You’re so funny, and You’ve got those Italian
meatball eyes.” while hugging him.. And then he hugged her back. This
was life with my mom.
I can remember vividly sitting by her desk at Wellesley college, when
she’d engage with her freshman students, providing guidance in their
transition, meeting them with understanding, and supportive words, “You
don’t have to be perfect. You are wonderful just as you are.” And she
truly meant that. She’d carry that legacy of openness and love into her
role as English department head and lead grandmother of Fenn.
Whether it was Buddhist philosophy, references to Jesus’s life and
teachings or her many anecdotes of raising 3 crazy boys, including the
times I lit GI Joes on fire in my dining room as a 5th grader, or the times
we may have thrown some pretty epic parties at our home at Fenn, my
mother made it her life’s work to provide an open space for people to be
themselves, to be honest and to be vulnerable, and simply to be heard.
Our home was a revolving door of parents, colleagues, students, friends
and children’s friends who’d come to spend time with her.
And yet, my mother never failed to find time for her family, whom she
cherished above all else- my Dad, Jerry, my brothers John, James and me.
Attending games, cooking and hosting dinners, inviting over my friends
on a Friday night, writing personal notes to each of her sons, she was the
embodiment of unbounding love and support. So, of course we were
devastated by her diagnosis, the heartwrenching moments that ensued
over those 10 years, but she continued to shine, buoyed by the
communities and people that she had loved and cared for. She beamed
with pride when my oldest nephew, James Peter, who she adored, made
his way to Fenn following in his uncle’s footsteps, and joining my Dad and
me in her beloved community. She was over the moon to have lived to
see it.
There are so many things about my mom I try to honor as a teacher.
When asked what mattered most about teaching, my mom once said, “A
willingness to be open to others and to the paradoxes of being human in
a world that can be so beautiful and so terrible at the same time.” This
duality of the human experience is something I continue to think about
every day. And of course, she’d often quote Mary Oliver with her
students, “Tell me, what is it you will do with your one wild and precious
life?” And those words continue to inspire me, her former students and

her family. Even though my mom struggled through her years of cancer,
she was met with the support of all those who she had cared for, a sign of
a life well lived.. I’ll never forget the day when the boys of her eighth-
grade class showed up at our doorstep, when she was going through her
worst bouts of cancer treatments, armed with a beaten up, annotated
copy of “All Quiet on the Western Front” which she had read with them.
Inside, a heartfelt message awaited her, a testament to the impact she
had on their lives and to their commitment to each other.
Stories like these about my mom are endless, each one a testament to her
warmth, her empathy and her unwavering spirit. My mom passed away
peacefully in 2017, surrounded by her loving family, on a beautiful Spring
day like the ones Mary Oliver describes in her poems. And while we may
miss her dearly, her spirit lives on in each and every one of us who she
loved. Of course, I regret that she never had the opportunity to meet her
first granddaughter, my daughter, Zoe Lorraine, and her other
grandchildren to spoil them immensely, and of course to provide some
BABYSITTING. But Lorraine’s grandkids know her well. They know to look
to the moon for their Nana, who is looking down on them. The bright side
of all this is that she would have burned through my parent’s entire
retirement saving on clothing at Fritz and Gigi for her grandchildren, so I
guess there is a silver lining. So make sure to buy something from them,
and other small Concord businesses, which she loved. Thank you all for
being here today, for your love, your support, and your commitment to
making a difference. And mom, we’ll look up to the full moon tonight – I
know you’re looking down on all of us. Thank you.