Frank Robert Howard (b. 26 April 1925 d March 15 2011) one of BC’s most enduring and endearing political figures, passed away in Surrey March 15, 2011. Howard held elected office in BC for 24 years, serving as CCF-NDP Member of Parliament for Skeena between 1957 and 1974 and as NDP MLA for Skeena between 1979 and 1986.Howard’s achievements are the more notable considering his background, as he described it in his book, From Prison to Parliament (2003). Born in Kimberley to an unknown father and a prostitute mother, he spent much of his childhood in foster homes and was convicted of armed robbery at 18, spending two years in prison. Following his prison experience he took charge of his life and found work as a miner, logger and union organizer, rising to president of the International Woodworkers of America, Local 1-71 when he was 25. In parliament he was an activist who devoted himself to chosen causes such as aboriginal rights, prison reform and divorce reform rather than partisan politics.
Howard’s efforts were crucial in winning the right to vote for aboriginal Canadians living on reserves on March 31, 1960 although the issue his name is most strongly associated with is that of divorce reform. Prior to 1968, Canada had no divorce law and couples could get divorced only by special act of parliament, a cumbersome and costly process that caused much individual misery as well as wasting time in parliament, but for 100 years no politician dared challenge the process. In 1960 Howard and his CCF colleague Arnold Peters brought matters to a head by launching a filibuster that stopped parliament from processing divorces and led to the creation of modern divorce legislation in 1968.
Helmut Giesbrecht , the NDP MLA for Skeena from 1991 to 2001, described Howard as a masterful politician.
“When I arrived in the BC legislature in 1991 I was asked by clerks if I knew Frank Howard and they would tell me of tales of his political smarts in the legislature,” recalled Giesbrecht.
Longtime Houston BC activist Les Watmough said Howard had the ability to calm both sides in a dispute and get them to work together.
“A word from him was like gospel,” said Watmough.
He described Howard's political prowess by relating a story from the 1972 provincial election campaign in which Howard, as MP, went door knocking with candidate Hartley Dent in Kitimat.
“You know Kitimat, it has all those crescents. He and Hartley agreed to start at each end and meet in the middle,” said Watmough.
But when Dent reached the middle, there was no sign of Howard working his way toward him from the other end.
“There he was in the second house from his side, having a glass of wine. He didn't need to go any further. He had the whole street locked up at the first house. He just knew so many people,” said Watmough.
Divorced from his first wife, Howard's second wife, Julienne, died of cancer in 1999. A son, Robert, died of AIDS in 1986.Howard married again, to journalist JJ McColl, who died in 2008.
He is survived by step-daughter Danielle Peacock and step-son Tony.
A celebration of Howard's life will be held on Thursday, June 23, 2011 at The Heritage Hall, 3102 Main Street, (15 Ave at Main), Vancouver, B.C. from 6 - 9 p.m.