Just less than a month before the massive West Indian American Day Carnival Parade takes place on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3, the president of the organizing group has died.
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is celebrated as a public holiday in the United States.
William R. “Bill” Howard, the African American-born president of the Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), was found dead in his Brooklyn home early Sunday morning, relatives said. He was 75.
William E. Howard, Jr., son of the late William R. Howard, “passed away in his sleep,” said his family in a statement. “The body was found not long after 5:00 a.m.
“Coroner’s report indicated he died of natural causes,” the statement added. “We are all devastated. “We loved Bill dearly and will miss him terribly. We would ask that our privacy is respected as we grieve during this very difficult time.”
Howard, who was born on Jan. 1, 1943, grew up in Fredericksburg, Va. He was a life-long friend of the late Caribbean American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
Chisholm, who had represented the then 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn, was the first Black woman to run for president of the United States. She was the daughter of a Barbadian mother and a Guyanese father.
Howard had served on the Board of Trustees for the City University of New York (CUNY).
He managed Chisholm’s personal finances, as well as the finances for her political campaigns, his family said.
It said Howard was 23-years-old in 1965 when then New York State legislator Chisholm and her mentor and campaign manager, the late Wesley McDonald Holder, asked Howard to be her campaign finance manager.
“I met four presidents through Mrs. Chisholm; both Bushes [George H. W. and George W], President Jimmy Carter and President Clinton, Robert Kennedy, the entire US Supreme Court, anyone who was anybody in Washington, D.C., came by to shake Chisholm’s hand,” Howard once said.
“That changed my life entirely,” added Howard, who would go on to a celebrated career in business and government, including a stint as a deputy trustee in the US Justice Department.
He also worked in a decades-long job as vice president for finance with the Equitable Life Assurance Society, where he was involved with making multi-million-dollar loans to various municipalities, corporations and individuals.
Howard also served on the Board of Brooklyn’s Jewish Hospital [later merged with Interfaith Hospital Center in Brooklyn], where he chaired the finance committee and once was president of the nursing school, the family said.
He was a CUNY board member from 1983 to 1995.
Howard served as first vice president of the Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute for Children and also participated in the former President Barack Obama’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in tribute to Chisholm in Washington, D.C., the family said.
In a tribute on the 50th anniversary of WIADCA last Labor Day, Howard said the carnival group’s volunteer membership “has personified their determination to present world-class programming of the Caribbean to the world, starting at the Brooklyn Museum on 8/31 to Eastern Parkway on 9/4 for the Carnival Parade, North America’s largest outdoor festival on Labor Day Monday.
“Now in our 50th year, and looking forward to another 50 years, we have revisited the legacies that most inspired the community, such as steel pan and costume-making classes for our youth and seniors, and much more that was the intention of our former president, [Trinidadian] Carlos Lezama, who, with his wife Hillary was at the helm for 34 years,” Howard added.
“WIADCA acknowledges other longstanding and loyal advisors, [Grenadian] Dr. Lamuel Stanislaus and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, all now deceased, with our present chairperson, [Trinidadian] Angela Sealy,” Howard continued.
“I acknowledge the hard work of our membership and hundreds of volunteers that bring over 2 million attendees, participants and enthusiasts to the annual celebrations that provides us with the impetus and motivation to continue to preserve the rich cultural traditions and heritage of the Caribbean here in New York,” he said.
As expected, news of Howard’s death spread like wildfire in the Caribbean community in New York, and has “shaken the political and non-profit world,” the family said.
Trinidadian Jean Alexander, who retired earlier this year after serving as chief marketing agent and public relations consultant for WIADCA for about 45 years, said she knew Howard for 44 years.
“I was so shocked I could not respond,” Alexander told Caribbean Life on Sunday on learning about Howard’s death. “He died just before Labor Day.
“He was a good friend,” she added. “He knew a lot of people, and he knew how to go about to get help [for others]. Me, personally, I will always be missing that man.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a statement late Sunday that he was “blessed to have had the honor to call Bill Howard a friend, an honor that so many of my neighbors across Brooklyn enjoyed over his many decades of public service.
“His legacy will forever be tied with that of the great Representative Shirley Chisholm, as well as that of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association,” he said. “Bill’s leadership and guidance were indispensable to both of these true Brooklyn institutions, as was his role in strengthening the welfare and unity of the borough’s diverse African-American and Caribbean-American communities.
“I am a better public servant, and more importantly a better man, for knowing him and receiving his incalculable counsel,” Adams added. “I hope this year’s Labor Day parade will be dedicated to his treasured memory.”
The family said funeral arrangements for Howard will be “forthcoming.”