Staffer named Sports Illustrated MVP

UT Southwestern has no mascot, sports arena or even a sports team, but it now has a nationally recognized MVP.

Sports Illustrated magazine named the medical center's Linda Ward an MVP - the magazine's Microsoft Office Most Valuable Professional in a contest recognizing unsung heroes in the office.

The senior administrative associate in the Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School's physicians assistant studies program competed against more than 2,000 entries to become one of the 10 finalists. The magazine selected the finalists from the nominees, then posted them on the Internet for the public to vote.

Ms. Ward scored big as the public's favorite candidate throughout the magazine's month-long Internet voting period. She learned early March 29 that she was the judges' favorite, too - and the contest's winner. Dr. P. Eugene Jones, department chairman, nominated Ms. Ward for the award because of her hard work and undying devotion to the department's faculty, staff and students.

"I still can't believe that Dr. Jones did this," Ms. Ward said. "Then, my family, friends, co-workers and our students really went out of their way to pull in the votes and help me win.

"Look out New York, the Texans are coming!"

Her reward is $500 and a trip to New York for the magazine's 2004 Sportsman of the Year Party with her husband, Bill. The couple is already making plans for the trip - they hope to visit Radio City Music Hall, Broadway and the Statue of Liberty. Dr. Jones and his wife get to join the Wards on the trip.

"It was really a spur of the moment thing," Dr. Jones said of the nomination. "I was reading a Sports Illustrated magazine and ran across the announcement. I had no idea how competitive it would be when I saw the nomination form - I simply wrote what I thought.

"Linda never backs down from a deadline and rises to every challenge, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds," Dr. Jones wrote on the entry form. "She's tough as nails and lets nothing get her down, always keeping the needs of the department first and foremost."

Ms. Ward's dedication to her job and strong work ethic were especially apparent a couple of years ago, Dr. Jones said, when she smoothly navigated the office through a particularly difficult period - the unexpected departure of three faculty, a curriculum transition from bachelor's to master's degree program and state budget cuts - all while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer.

It's all part of the job, Ms. Ward said, adding that she doesn't see anything particularly special about herself.

"I am surrounded by special people who make me look good in the reflection of their accomplishments," she said. "I have an excellent staff and nationally recognized faculty. Our students are the best of the best applicants each year.

"There are so many world renowned and brilliant people at UT Southwestern," she said. "I am just a tiny part of the whole scheme. It is nice to be recognized for just being an ordinary person, doing the job they are paid to do."

Surviving breast cancer hasn't defined Ms. Ward's life, nor does it make her feel excluded in any way. After all, one in every eight women in the United States will get breast cancer, she noted.

"I am a survivor and, as a survivor, proof that the best medical care is available and chances of survival are excellent - especially if they are fortunate enough to go through UT Southwestern's breast center," Ms. Ward said.

Even with all the excitement and hubbub over the MVP announcement, Ms. Ward said the award that is most dear to her is one she received recently from students. The physician assistant studies class of 2004 named her their "pseudo-mom" in appreciation of the mothering she has given them.

"It has all been so much fun, and I didn't even have to wear a bikini," she said, referring to the magazine's popular swimsuit edition.


Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem