the issue > Press | Press Coverage > May 22, 2013

Dallas Life: Meet Highland Park Village parking valet Dave Ward

Many generations of Dallas folks know him by his first name. Some call him, affectionately, Johnny, the Boss or Elvis, nicknames that make him smile. Some people even call him the mayor of Highland Park Village.
When he first told me his name, he said, “I’m Dave Ward, you know, like KTRK’s Dave Ward in Houston?”
I do remember Dave Ward, the longtime ABC Houston news anchor. But I am sitting outside Starbucks in Highland Park Village to get to know Dave Ward, the longtime Dallas valet.
Ward, 54, has been a valet for more than two decades for Jack Boles Parking of Dallas. Boles valets for many area businesses with clients that include presidents, national and international diplomats, celebrities and professional athletes.
We can hardly conduct the interview for the countless people passing by and greeting Ward. He has just clocked out and is sitting on a park bench instead of his usual valet perch. It’s like sitting with a rock star.
“Are you being interviewed, Dave?” asks Bill Funk, a higher-education search consultant with offices in Highland Park Village.
“Let me tell you, he is the glue that holds this place together,” Funk tells me.
“He’s the heart and soul of Highland Park,” says Bill Noble of William Noble Rare Jewels. “And women dig the Elvis thing.”
Ward flushes bright red.
“In a way, this is my stage. This is my Grand Ole Opry,” Ward says.
His way of greeting people is not just for show. I’ve been coming to this shopping center for a long time. Ward has been a constant, waving people in as though he’s an appointed ambassador of this small village. He’s seen children grow up. He helps infants out of car seats like he’s family.
People appreciate the small-town touch.
“I just treat people the way that they want to be treated,” he says. “I just talk to them and be their friend.”
The rather simple philosophy of life has produced countless relationships that Ward cherishes. A few years ago, he suffered a seizure while parking cars at Patrizio. Customers called him in the hospital to check on him.
“We’re all like a big family here,” he says.
He worked for Boles in Houston. In the mid-’90s, he moved with the company to Dallas. People who saw him serve the Houstonian, River Oaks Country Club, the Forest Club and the original Hermann Hospital often run into Ward at the valet stand in Dallas and remember him like an old friend.
He used to do valet services for private parties and in other areas of town.
“But now, I’ll only work in the Village,” he says.
This is his home base, most often outside Mi Cocina restaurant.
“There are some people that say that if they don’t see me, they won’t valet.”
In between the steady flow of warm greetings, I ask Ward where he got the attributes that make him so beloved.
He answers seriously: “Johnny Cash.”
I ask him to clarify.
“It was the way he did things. He was a down-to-earth country boy,” Ward says. “He treated people with respect and honesty.”
He’s also a fan of Elvis and Kris Kristofferson.
As the man in black might say, Ward finds it “very, very easy to be true” to people, a trait that helps explain his rather large following.
He pulls out an envelope bursting at the seams with photographs from a trip he took to visit Johnny and June Cash’s grave sites. He tells me how he hired a driver to take him to all of the off-the-beaten-path places.
He loves to sing along to Cash and Presley. His wardrobe outside of work is all black, just like Cash. His Carrollton home has collections, fan letters and memorabilia on the walls.
“The living room is John’s area, and the dining room is dedicated to Elvis,” he says.
When Cash died, the company told Ward to take the day off.
Ward worked in the grocery business before a friend introduced him to the valet business. Ward didn’t want to work behind a desk, and he liked the idea of a job that kept him moving. He also liked interacting with people.
You can’t imagine the long list of celebrities who have pulled up to Ward’s post. He’s parked people from Minnie Pearl to U2’s Bono, and various past presidents.
“Once the stars get away from California, they act completely different because they don’t have all of that paparazzi chasing them here,” he says.
Celebrity or not, there’s something that draws people to him. Dallas is lucky. Come rain or shine, Ward, in the words of Johnny Cash, seems to want to “wear a rainbow every day” he’s out there.
Clare Miers is a Dallas freelance writer.