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Lover of the arts who founded a much celebrated literary festival by the sea

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 02, 2012

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Susan Ward, founder of the popular Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, Words By The Sea, which has brought many acclaimed authors and poets to the town over the last three years, has died peacefully at home on Tuesday 19th June 2012.

Mrs Ward was wife to Charles and mother to Charlotte, Rebecca and Thomas. She had seven grandchildren.

Mrs Ward began her work in the arts world in Stirling in the 1980s fundraising for performance and artistic events in the University of Stirling and the Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

She chaired the friends’ committee and represented the museum at the National Museum Committee of Scotland.

Moving to Budleigh Salterton in 2005, attracted by the scenic surroundings and the Budleigh lifestyle, she soon became heavily involved with the local arts.

Mrs Ward always had a passion for reading, spending her first pocket money on a book, Famous Historical Scenes from Three Centuries (published in 1878), which she kept all her life.

It was, however, a chance conversation with an unknown man on the beach in 2008, questioning why a town as scenic as Budleigh did not have a literary festival, which inspired her to begin the project.

The first Words By The Sea festival took place in 2009, with the aim of being the best small literary festival in the country by providing a relaxed and social atmosphere for distinguished authors and visitors alike.

Securing many celebrated authors including Michael Morpurgo, Val McDermid and Hilary Mantel, as well as broadcaster Sue Lawley as Honorary President at the festival’s debut, the festival was a great and success and is a testament to Mrs Ward’s enthusiasm and determination for excellence.

Subsequent festivals have maintained or exceeded the initial festival’s high standards as reflected in this year’s programme, which includes such names as Joan Bakewell, Wendy Cope, Douglas Hurd and Michael Frayn.

Following Sue Lawley’s relocation to London in 2011, Hilary Mantel CBE took over as Honorary President and has continued to work closely with the committee to ensure the ongoing success of the festival.

Ms Mantel said: “I was privileged to know Susan only for a short time but even at our first meeting at the Dartington Festival I was struck by her as a totally original person, sparkling, witty and charming.

“Later, when I moved to the town and came to know her, I saw that her fragility hid a tremendous determination – she was imaginative, public-spirited, energetic and kind. It is hardly possible to think of our town and our festival without her. We must try to move forward with the flair and grace she demonstrated, and hope to have at least a part of her success.”

The final programme for Words by the Sea, which takes place between September 21 and 23 is dedicated to Mrs Ward to recognise her remarkable vision and achievements in bringing the literary greats to Budleigh Salterton.

In her own words: “To all the notable authors and poets who have delighted us, made us think and made us laugh, thank you – without you, we would have had a duller life.”

Her funeral took place on Friday 29th June 2012 at Temple Church, Budleigh Salterton. Family flowers only,

Donations can be made to Budleigh Salterton and District Hospice Care, 1 The Lawn, Budleigh Salterton, EX9 6LS.

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