Ted Wiard, a former Taos tennis coach and avid player of the sport, stepped onto a court this summer for the first time in 24 years.

He was more than a little nervous. 

“First it was super awkward.

I was afraid I was going to fall on my butt,” Wiard said. “But really my fear was, I was waiting for a phone call. I worried if I picked up the racket, someone was going to die.”

In his life, tennis became synonymous with loss and a mountain of grief.

In 1989 while he was getting his professional tennis coaching license in Phoenix, Arizona, he received the call that his brother Richard Wiard had died in a fishing accident in Alaska.

In 1991, when he was at a tennis tournament in Phoenix, he learned that his wife, Leslie, his Taos High sweetheart and mother of their two young daughters, had been diagnosed with cancer. She died two years later.

And on July 29, 1996, he was coaching the Taos High School tennis team at a tournament in Albuquerque when he received the call that his two daughters and his mother-in-law had been in a car crash. His daughter Amy, 6, and his mother-in-law, Rachel, died that day. His daughter Keri, 9, was flown to an Albuquerque hospital where she passed away the next day. 

Over time, he turned his own overwhelming grief into a career helping others navigate loss and trauma at all hours of day and night, in all kinds of situations. He’s set up grief support groups, offered his time to be with families after a loved one dies and been a shoulder to lean on for many, many Taoseños.

For that devotion, he is this year’s Citizen of the Year.

“I feel really, really strongly that he gives himself tirelessly and selflessly to anyone who needs him,” said Joseph Quintana, who nominated him for the award and whose own family Wiard has helped. “He’s always ready and willing 24/7 to get in there and help people heal. And he does so with such compassion. He more than deserves it.”

Life before

Wiard is a community builder and a bridge between people, according to his longtime friend Kurt Edelbrock. 

“He has done some things for this county that has kept it from getting into north-south type or gang or ethnic warfare,” Edelbrock said. “I’ve seen him diffuse so many situations that this community is just a much better community because of him.”

At weddings, at funerals, or after traumatic events, Wiard “celebrates the individual spiritual values of everyone,” Edelbrock said. “His ability to bring this all together is amazing.”

That ability might have found its seeds in Wiard’s childhood. He spent his first few years in Los Alamos. That’s where he learned tennis. And that’s where he explored religion for the first time. 

“In third grade, me and one of my friends would take our $1.90 on a Sunday and have breakfast at a diner at 7 a.m. and then go find a church and go – different ones. No clue why,” he said. “There was something in me that was always curious about this vehicle called religion, but more interested in spirituality.”

His family moved to Taos, where his mom let him stay at a commune for a few weeks at age 13. He gleaned a bit more about different views of spirituality.

By the time he was in Taos High School, he was an accomplished skier and tennis player. There he met Leslie Devlin. After graduation, he went to the University of Nevada-Reno and then University of New Mexico to ski race. Devlin went to New Mexico State University and studied journalism. He joined her at the university and played tennis. They married and returned to Taos in 1985 where Leslie took a job at the Taos News. Ted became a teacher at Enos Garcia Elementary and was coaching the Taos High tennis team.

Then the world caved in.

A broken man

Wiard was crushed when Leslie died. He was beyond broken after he lost his daughters. 

“The pain and confusion I felt from 1996 to 1999 were so excruciating that all I wanted to do was die and be done,” he said.

But every time he came close, something pulled him back.

“After Leslie died, she lived on through the girls. I couldn’t give in to grief because I had them to raise,” Wiard said. 

Without his daughters, he was unmoored. “But I thought about Richard, Leslie, Keri and Amy, who did not have a choice in dying, so how could I? And 

I thought about a best friend of mine who was 13 when his dad died by suicide. I remembered that pain so well. I couldn’t put my family through that kind of pain.”

Wiard traveled and ended up in Australia, as far from Taos and the memories of his family and his pain as he could go “without leaving the planet.” There, he had some moments of revelation and he began to think there was something larger at work in his loss.

Reclaiming life

“I believe we have to claim we have been victimized in order to empower ourselves to start to heal or we look for rescue and continue being a victim,” Wiard said.  “I had been victimized. I had been amputated. My family had been stolen.”

He chose to begin healing. “I had to choose to heal in order to honor Keri and Amy. I had to start back into the world.”

It wasn’t easy. He said he didn’t handle things well sometimes. Finally, he went to rehab, even though he didn’t drink or do drugs.

“As an athlete, as a caregiver for Leslie, I had to be sober. After she died, my drug of choice was Keri and Amy. When they were gone, I couldn’t wrap my life around raising them anymore.” 

After rehab, he went to Terra Nova Ministerial School in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. He was asked to think about how he would minister.

“Mine was to put a flashlight in the dark that someone in need can choose to use,” he said. “It is not my job to tell you how to use it.”

He became dean of admissions and financial aid of Brevard College in North Carolina. “That allowed me to realize I could still function in the world. I was doing well, but it didn’t feed me,” he said.

By then he had also met and married Marcella Metcalfe, who he met in ministerial school and who would help him on his path to healing. She suggested they move back to Taos to realize a long dream of his – a grief support center. 

It was hard to come back to Taos, especially with a new wife. “And I wasn’t the Ted that left in 1996,” Wiard said. “Luckily Taos is a welcoming place and Marcella is a strong woman. Marcella’s quiet presence of holding space, keeping things in some sort of order and honoring my past while trusting me in the present is a major reason any of my success and service has been able to happen.”

He found a Taos that still welcomed him. 

“This town raised me – Taos Ski Valley, and the town, the people. They raised me. From the pueblo, from Ralph Vigil in Ranchitos to the Medinas in Cañón,” he noted. “When my life dissipated, this town helped me and welcomed me back, which didn’t have to happen.”

Becoming of service

In Arroyo Hondo, Ted and Marcella built Golden Willow Retreat while he also taught at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School. The following year, they homeschooled some kids who helped build a chapel.

He became a licensed clinical therapist and certified grief counselor. He quickly became a person the community sought out for emotional help.

I thought about a best friend of mine who was 13 when his dad died by suicide. I remembered that pain so well. I couldn’t put my family through that kind of pain.”

Wiard traveled and ended up in Australia, as far from Taos and the memories of his family and his pain as he could go “without leaving the planet.” There, he had some moments of revelation and he began to think there was something larger at work in his loss.

Reclaiming life

“I believe we have to claim we have been victimized in order to empower ourselves to start to heal or we look for rescue and continue being a victim,” Wiard said.  “I had been victimized. I had been amputated. My family had been stolen.”

He chose to begin healing. “I had to choose to heal in order to honor Keri and Amy. I had to start back into the world.”

It wasn’t easy. He said he didn’t handle things well sometimes. Finally, he went to rehab, even though he didn’t drink or do drugs.

“As an athlete, as a caregiver for Leslie, I had to be sober. After she died, my drug of choice was Keri and Amy. When they were gone, I couldn’t wrap my life around raising them anymore.” 

After rehab, he went to Terra Nova Ministerial School in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. He was asked to think about how he would minister.

“Mine was to put a flashlight in the dark that someone in need can choose to use,” he said. “It is not my job to tell you how to use it.”

He became dean of admissions and financial aid of Brevard College in North Carolina. “That allowed me to realize I could still function in the world. I was doing well, but it didn’t feed me,” he said.

By then he had also met and married Marcella Metcalfe, who he met in ministerial school and who would help him on his path to healing. She suggested they move back to Taos to realize a long dream of his – a grief support center. 

It was hard to come back to Taos, especially with a new wife. “And I wasn’t the Ted that left in 1996,” Wiard said. “Luckily Taos is a welcoming place and Marcella is a strong woman. Marcella’s quiet presence of holding space, keeping things in some sort of order and honoring my past while trusting me in the present is a major reason any of my success and service has been able to happen.”

He found a Taos that still welcomed him. 

“This town raised me – Taos Ski Valley, and the town, the people. They raised me. From the pueblo, from Ralph Vigil in Ranchitos to the Medinas in Cañón,” he noted. “When my life dissipated, this town helped me and welcomed me back, which didn’t have to happen.”

Becoming of service

In Arroyo Hondo, Ted and Marcella built Golden Willow Retreat while he also taught at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School. The following year, they homeschooled some kids who helped build a chapel.

He became a licensed clinical therapist and certified grief counselor. He quickly became a person the community sought out for emotional help.

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