The Caribbean Community in New York on Wednesday paid their last respects to William “Bill” Howard, president of the Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA).
Howard died on Aug. 5 – just less than a month before the massive West Indian American Day Carnival Parade, organized by WIADCA, takes place on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3. He was 75.
The WIADCA African American-born president was found dead in his Brooklyn home.
His family said in a statement that he “passed away in his sleep.”
“Coroner’s report indicated he died of natural causes,” the statement added.
Hundreds of Caribbean nationals and legislators paid tribute to Howard at a massive funeral service and repast at the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home and Medgar Evers College, respectively, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
The funeral chapel Wednesday afternoon was filled to capacity, as nationals paid tribute in speeches, songs, hymns, musical selections, scripture readings, prayers and video presentations, among others.
At the subsequent repast, at the nearby Medgar Evers College, City University of New York (CUNY), where Howard was a founding member, steel pan music by Trinidadian pan soloist Oscar Williams preceded and followed the event.
Several leading Caribbean Community legislators and figures were on hand to pay their final respects.
“This man was an icon,” said New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, the Grenadian American candidate for New York State lieutenant governor. “This man brought us all together. I had never heard anyone say anything negative about Bill Howard.
“The work he did, it had to exact a toll on his family,” he added. “His impact on me was amazing.”
Former New York City Councilmember, Jamaican Una S.T. Clarke, a member of the Board of Trustees of CUNY, said Howard, who served on the board from 1983 to 1995, mentored her when she was selected by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to sit on the body.
“I’m really honored to be here,” said Clarke, at the repast, whose daughter, United States Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.
“I thank Bill for his help and his support,” the elder Clarke added. “He was the longest-serving member of WIADCA.”
Earlier, Clarke told Caribbean Life that Howard’s sudden death was “a great loss to the Caribbean Community.
“He left a great legacy, starting from his work with [the late] Shirley Chisholm [the first woman and Caribbean American national to run for president of the United States],” she said. “He was very dedicated to the Caribbean Community.”
Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, the Barbadian-born associate justice in the Appellate Division in New York State Supreme Court, told mourners at the repast that Howard’s work “speaks for you.”
She, too, earlier, along with Caribbean legislators, told Caribbean Life that she was saddened by the passing of her friend and “community icon.”
“He left a tremendous legacy,” said Justice Hinds-Radix, whose husband is a Grenadian dentist. “I am more saddened that we were unable to conclude a project on Shirley Chisholm that he had recently invited me to work on with him.”
That project was for the establishment of the Shirley Chisholm Center in Brooklyn.
Chisholm, who had represented the then 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn, was the daughter of a Barbadian mother and a Guyanese father.
Howard had managed Chisholm’s personal finances, as well as the finances for her political campaigns, his family said.
It said Howard served as first vice president of the Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute for Children, Inc. and also participated in the former United States President Barack Obama’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in tribute to Chisholm in Washington, D.C.
New York State Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who helped organize the funeral service and repast, said Howard’s death was “a tremendous loss, because he was a mentor to everyone.
“He left a legacy of helping the community, helping children, helping the needy, but, more important, unifying and bridging the community,” the representative for the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life.
“He was from the South [United States], but he unified the West Indian community – whether Haitian, Trinidadian, Bajan or Guyanese,” she added.
“Our job now is to carry on his legacy and continue the work of Shirley Chisholm; strengthening WIADCA; finding funds to build the economics in the Black community; providing scholarships to young people, so they can have a chance to lead the world,” Bichotte continued. “We love Bill, and we’ll miss Bill, but we’re going to celebrate him every day.”
Bichotte’s compatriot, Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to New York City Council, said Howard “dedicated his life to serving the Caribbean Community.”
“He was such a wonderful person,” he also told Caribbean Life. “I am so pleased to join community leaders, who came together, to pay tribute to him.”
Howard, who was born on Jan. 1, 1943 and grew up in Fredericksburg, Va, spent most of his life in Brooklyn, where he was a “life-long” friend of Chisholm, his family said.
Carnival organizers said the five-day West Indian American Carnival will take place as scheduled.
It starts on Aug. 30 and culminates on Sept. 3, with the spectacular Carnival Parade on Eastern Parkway.