Sue Fryer Ward, the first secretary of Maryland’s Department of Aging and a lifelong advocate for elders’ rights, died June 22 at a hospital in Annapolis. She was 78.

The cause was complications from a stroke, her family said. She was a resident of Upper Marlboro, Md.

A licensed social worker, Mrs. Ward was hired in 1982 to direct the Department of Aging in Prince George’s County. She held that position until 1991 and became director of the county’s Department of Family Services in 1992. Three years later, she became director of the state’s Department of Aging.

The agency, which helps senior citizens access housing, affordable health care and employment, became an executive department in 1998 under Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). He appointed Mrs. Ward as the first secretary, a post she held until 2003.

From 2003 to 2011, Mrs. Ward worked as a grass-roots director for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Sue Fryer Ward (Baltimore Sun)

Sue Elleanore Fryer was born in Albuquerque on Oct. 28, 1935, and traveled across the United States and abroad as determined by her father’s work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs; he eventually became assistant commissioner.

During her 10 years in Arizona as a child, Mrs. Ward witnessed how American Indians in the Navajo Nation treated their elders. She did not like to use “elderly” to describe senior citizens and said she thought “elders” showed more respect.

After attending more than a dozen schools before ninth grade, Mrs. Ward graduated from what was then Western High School in Washington, D.C. She earned a bachelor’s degree in government in 1957 from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Utah in 1960.

In 1959, she married Archibald Ward, a research sociologist who became director of training in the forensic division at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington. He died in 2000.

Survivors include two daughters, Beth Ward of Northampton, Mass., and Lucille Walker of Upper Marlboro; two stepchildren, Ann Ward Little and John Ward, both of Williamsburg; a sister; and five grandchildren.

Before entering public service, Mrs. Ward drove a school bus and volunteered with several organizations to be at home with her young daughters. She was active in Democratic politics and unsuccessfully challenged Republican Marjorie Holt in 1978 in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.

In 2010, the National Association of Social Workers named her a Social Work Pioneer.

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