Brooklyn Mourns Passing Of William (Bill) Howard, 1943-2018

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Brooklyn mourned the loss of one of its seminal figures in the borough’s politics and the West Indian American Day Carnival Association President over the weekend.

William R. Howard, longtime figure in the Caribbean and black communities, passed away in his sleep on Sunday at the age of 75. According to the coroner’s report, Howard died of natural causes in his Brooklyn home and was discovered by his son William R. Howard, Jr., not long after 5 a.m.

“We are all devastated,” Howard’s family said in a statement through a spokesman. “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 was born on January 1, 1943 and grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Howard was 23-years old in 1965 when then New York State Legislator Shirley Chisholm and her mentor and campaign manager, the late Wesley McD Holder, asked Howard to be her campaign finance manager. He managed Chisholm’s personal finances, as well as the finances for her political campaigns. The position led Howard to a life-long friendship with Chisholm and to a legacy of political work.

From left to right: The Late Bill Howard, His Wife Cordelia Howard and Harry Belafonte as Grand Marshall at the West Indian Day Parade

Chisholm went on to become Brooklyn’s first black Congressmember – the first black person to run for president from a major political party. 

Howard also served on the Board of Brooklyn’s Jewish Hospital [later merged with Interfaith
Hospital Center], where he chaired the finance committee and once was president of the nursing school. In addition, he was a City University of New York board member from 1983 to 1995. The beloved icon also 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 Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in Washington, DC.

News of Howard’s death has shaken the political and non-profit world, leading to an outpouring of tributes from local and federal lawmakers including Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park)

“I’m 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. 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,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of a cherished and respected leader, fierce advocate for the Caribbean community, and friend, William “Bill” R. Howard. I extend my deepest condolences to Bill’s family on behalf of the people of the Ninth Congressional District. Much of his work and passion for Caribbean culture and public service was displayed right here, in Central Brooklyn,” said U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Midwood, Brownsville, Sheepshead Bay).

“I feel blessed to be a beneficiary of his counsel and support. Most recently, I worked with Bill during the introduction of my legislation, H.R. 4856. This bill will finally bring a statue of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm to the United States Capitol. Mr. Howard was a trusted friend and advisor of the late Congresswoman, and having his support was important to myself and staff. I will miss Bill, and I will forever cherish the many lessons I learned from this great public servant. May he Rest In Peace,” Clarke Added.

“Bill Howard was a fierce leader in Brooklyn for over 50 years. From his work with Shirley Chisholm to his leadership of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, he spent his life working to give back to and uplift his community. It is his shoulders upon which we stand as we do our part in building a better Brooklyn and honoring Caribbean culture and community, which so deeply enriches the fabric of our entire city. We are greatly indebted to Bill for his tremendous work and should honor him by proudly and boldly carrying his legacy of service forward,” said Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo (D-Fort Greene, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights)

“Yesterday we lost a giant. I offer my prayers for peace and comfort to the family of Bill Howard. He spent his life in service to his community and dedicated to advancing the causes of those around him. He was an institution of black and Caribbean culture. He knew and shared history with those around him, because he lived it.What Bill created has brought joy and resources to the people of New York, and I thank him for his support and for a lifetime of service,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood).

“I join with our entire community in honoring the remarkable life and legacy of William Howard Sr. – a leader, a mentor, and a friend. He was part of a team that brought the first Caribbean American woman to the United States Congress, helping to make Brooklyn’s own Shirley Chisholm a pioneer in national politics. He also helped bring our community together to celebrate West Indian American heritage. His wise counsel touched the lives of many. We mourn his passing and honor his legacy of lifting our Brooklyn communities to new heights,” said State Senator Jesse Hamilton (D-Central Brooklyn).

“Bill Howard passed less than a month away from the parade, that he was involved with for the last 20 years. This is a significant loss and a huge loss to the organization. I knew him for 35 years, he was a mainstay in organizing politics, including working for Shirley Chisholm. He was a good man, who came from Long Island but he had a great affinity for the West Indian community. He will be sorely miss and out heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family,” said Kings County Democratic Party Boss Frank Seddio.

“He’s been a mainstay and staple behind the carnival for years. He worked for Shirley Chisholm and who was a supporter of the Caribbean community. Howard has been a supporter of the community for many years and worked towards civic mindedness through his efforts. He will be dearly missed by all of Brooklyn, the WIADCA association, the local community and Caribbean community by extension. He left a great legacy in the community itself for his work,” said former City Councilwoman Una Clarke.

“We are all shocked and saddened by the passing of Bill Howard. His deidcation to WIADCA, and our Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club spoke to his character and his sense of civic duty,” said Male Democratic District Leader and Club Co-Founder Josue (Josh) Pierre.

Funeral arrangements are forthcoming. Please feel free to contact Barbara Bullard or Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte at