NEW YORK, United States, Aug 6, CMC – Less than a month before the massive West Indian American Day Carnival Parade takes place on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway on Labour Day, September 3, the president of the organizing group has died.
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. His family said in a statement that he had passed away in his sleep.
“The body was found not long after 5:00 a.m. The 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 January 1, 1943, grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was a life-long friend of the late Caribbean American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm – the daughter of a Barbadian mother and a Guyanese father – who had represented the then 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn and was the first black woman to run for president of the United States.
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.
“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.”
Howard subsequently had 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.
In a tribute on the 50th anniversary of WIADCA last Labour Day, Howard said the carnival group’s volunteer membership “has personified their determination to present world-class programming of the Caribbean to the world”.
News of his 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 the Caribbean Media Corporation on Sunday, after learning about the death. “He was a good friend. 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 honour to call Bill Howard a friend, an honour that so many of my neighbours 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. 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”.