Margaret Walker, who was director of the Queen’s School of Music between 2010 and 2015, remembers meeting with one of the program’s donors, Helen Howard, BA’49, and being struck by the joy and energy she brought to her philanthropic activities.
“I was having lunch with Helen after one of the chamber music concerts and she turned to me and said, ‘Well, what is your next project for me?’” Dr. Walker recalls. “She was a donor who didn’t come with her own agenda. She cared about what the department and students needed.”
Dr. Howard, who passed away one day shy of her 95th birthday in September 2022, is remembered by friends, family, and the Queen’s community as a distinguished librarian, philanthropist, and lover of the arts.
After graduating from Queen’s with an arts degree in 1949, Dr. Howard went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in library science from McGill University and a PhD from Rutgers University.
Her career took her to Montreal, where she established libraries for the Newsprint Association of Canada and Montreal Engineering Company before becoming university librarian at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). Dr. Howard also taught at the University of Toronto and McGill University.
Rosemary Dobbin, who knew Dr. Howard for more than six decades, remembers when she was a grad student at Sir George Williams and she told her library-loving friend that she had never been to the school’s library.
“Helen said I couldn’t graduate university without going through the library, so she walked me through the stacks,” she recalls.
Dr. Howard grew up in Napanee, Ont., and, after retiring, returned to the area to live in Kingston. This is when her philanthropic relationship with Queen’s began.
She established numerous funds, including the Helen Howard Library Enhancement Fund, the Queen’s Community Music – Sistema Kingston Fund, and several at what is now the DAN School of Drama and Music, including the Helen A. Howard Bassoon Scholarship and the Helen Howard Music, Education, and Community Fund.
Sistema Kingston is a program close to Dr. Howard’s heart because it uses music to change lives. The free after-school music program builds self-esteem and creativity in children from lower socio-economic backgrounds in Kingston.
“Helen’s additional support for Queen’s Community Music and Sistema Kingston has allowed students of all ages to experience the joy that music learning and engagement brings. I am particularly grateful for her support of Sistema Kingston, and the access to music that it provides for underserved children in our community,” says Karma Tomm, the founding director of the Sistema Kingston program at Queen’s.
While Dr. Howard always supported the arts, her generosity extended to the Queen’s libraries as well.
Her philanthropy led to the Helen Howard Graduate Students Reading Room, which officially opened in Stauffer Library in 2018 to give graduate students a dedicated space to study and collaborate together.
“Sometimes the graduate experience can be an afterthought. [The Helen Howard Reading Room] shows grad students that they’re part of the fabric of Queen’s,” Tyler Morrison, Law’19, (who was president of the Society of Professional and Graduate Students at the time) told the Queen’s Journal when the room officially opened.
Dr. Howard’s brother, Don Creighton, Arts’61, feels his sister had a tremendous impact on her community. Her generosity was genuine, and she helped everyone – including both amateur and professional artists and musicians.
“[Philanthropy] is not something she did for the income-tax receipt,” says Mr. Creighton. “She served in a kind-hearted way. She cared and was always trying to improve the community.”
Mr. Creighton remembers his sister as a woman who had a zest for life and curiosity for knowledge, which played a part in her love of libraries and seeking information.
She was always active and loved swimming – whether it was in the lake at the family cottage or later in life at the pool in her condo.
“She was a remarkable conversationalist. She was plugged in to newspapers and magazines and loved to talk to people and carry on a conversation,” Mr. Creighton says. “Right through to the end, she didn’t concentrate on her health problems. She remained resilient and curious.”
Friend Sona Moffat says Dr. Howard was a humble person. Proof of this was the fact that Ms. Moffat was not aware her friend had a PhD or that she was a major donor who had established multiple philanthropic funds at Queen’s.
“Sometimes people brag about themselves, and Helen was the exact opposite,” says Ms. Moffat. “We went to concerts and plays together and she never told me about her career or her philanthropy.”
A memorial leaflet handed out at Dr. Howard’s funeral included a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
“To me, that exemplifies Helen,” says Ms. Moffat. “She wasn’t afraid to try things. She was a kind, thoughtful, and gentle person, but she was also strong and had gentle grit.”