Philosophy professor and passionate local philanthropist Benjamin Ward died Saturday after a three-year battle with colon cancer.

Before joining the Duke community in 1980, Ward was a classically trained pianist who played the organ at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 memorial service, according to a Duke News press release. For more than 20 years, the Baltimore native volunteered two hours a day, five days a week at Urban Ministries of Durham—an organization that helps the homeless find a home and meets emergency needs for food.

"Ben was committed to helping those less fortunate than himself and volunteered countless hours of service in the community and served as a mentor for generations of youth,” said Joe Gonzalez, dean for residential life, in the press release. “Ben was an inspiration to many on how life can and should be lived."

Ward received Duke's Humanitarian Service Award in 1997 the Duke Employee Community Service Award in 2007.

After he won the award, Ward said that he began volunteering with Urban Ministries after saw many black men in the parking lot of the downtown shelter, and decided he wanted to help make a difference.

"I wanted the challenge," Ward said after he won the award. "I wanted to do something different from the norm. I learn a lot; a lot about the people, the city and myself. It's a measure of my own growth; it expands a sense of who I am."

After joining the Duke community, Ward was a key factor in the creation of Duke’s faculty-in-residence program. Ward most recently lived in Edens Quad.

"Ben embodies the core values and highest aspirations of Duke and is much beloved on campus and in the Durham community," said Robert Thompson, a former dean of Trinity College, in the press release. "Ben made a difference in the lives of many undergraduates, and staff and faculty as well. Ben traversed many boundaries in academic and student life and the Duke and Durham communities, and did so with remarkable grace, dignity, genuine respect and concern for others, and with an unfailing smile, good humor and generosity of spirit."