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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Barbara J. Howard, 79

Barbara J. Howard of Naples, Flordia, a former Westport resident, died Dec. 31 of complications from COPD. She was 79. Image
Barbara Howard: former Westporter. Contributed photo

She was born Barbara Joyce Bethard on Oct. 28, 1937, in Litchfield, Illinois, daughter of Mildred McKee Bethard and Oral F. Bethard. She grew up in Barry, Illinois, where she attended Barry schools from first grade through high school, graduating as valedictorian of the class of 1955.

In high school, she and a girlfriend sang duets at school and at church, and were on the March of Dimes tour; they also won a talent contest on a local TV station. Among other activities, she was active in the school band (trombone and majorette), the 4H Club, and the Methodist Youth Fellowship. At graduation, she was given the American Legion “Good Citizenship” award.

She was awarded an academic scholarship to Illinois State University (then called Illinois State Normal University, a teachers’ college) where she attended one year, majoring in business education.

However, she was eager to get out into the business world herself, rather than learning how to teach others to do so. In 1956, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a secretary for Transoceanic Marine Inc., a company owned by Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.

She met and married George Lorenz in New York in 1957, and they moved to Chicago in 1958. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1962. They had one daughter, Tonia.

In Chicago, her first job was with Gordon Best Advertising, Inc., where she started as assistant to the director of personnel. After a year, she was promoted to director of personnel. The agency merged with another advertising agency and changed names several times.

She was its director of personnel for five years. Later she worked at marketing research firm Elrick & Lavidge, and later for several years at Girl Scouts USA in its Chicago regional office as business manager.

GSUSA asked her to take a “temporary” assignment in its New York headquarters, which ended up lasting 10 years. She worked in the Human Resources department.

In 1975, she met Ray Howard, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, who had just moved from Chicago to New York. They met at Bethesda Covenant Church, across from the United Nations, and were married in June 1976. They lived in New York until 1978, when they moved to Westport.

Barbara joined New Neighbors of Westport and became its president in 1981. Since the members of NNW were not allowed to stay in the club after four years, she organized an offshoot group called The Graduates for those who had “graduated” from NNW. She served as its first president.

She became active in the Westport Historical Society, where she initially chaired its large fundraiser, the Victorian Garden Party gala, in 1983.

It was because of that function that she met and hired an up-and-coming Westport businesswoman, Martha Stewart, as the caterer. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were the gala’s honorary chairmen. That event raised more money for WHS than had been done at any previous galas.

Barbara became program chairman and chaired subsequent affairs and programs for the Society, and in 1984 was elected their president for a two-year term. During her time in office, she instituted the Holiday House Tours, an annual fundraising event still in effect today.

She also was instrumental in starting the fundraising campaign to renovate the cobblestone barn owned by WHS. Barbara and Ray arranged for a scale model exhibit to be built and displayed in the barn itself. The exhibit depicts how Westport looked circa 1900, with miniature replicas of the buildings of that time, many of which still stand today.

Ray started his own firm, Howard International, in 1982. Its business was marketing and new product design for major corporations. Barbara cut back on her social and volunteer assignments to join Ray in his business in 1985, working with him until he retired in 1999.

In Connecticut, she joined the Norfield Congregational Church in Weston, and became a member of a small singing group called The Steeple People. They sang at inter-denominational church services at Compo Beach in the summers and occasionally at worship services at Norfield and at community functions. She loved singing gospel songs with the group.

Many interesting things happened during this period. One was in 1995, when she and Ray attended a Boston Pops concert at Carnegie Hall, where Jason Alexander was a guest singer. He picked Barbara out of the audience and asked her to come up on stage with him and do a song and dance (which of course was totally unrehearsed). She found that being on that huge stage in Carnegie Hall was thrilling and awesome.

Barbara and Ray lived in Westport and Weston for 32 years. She enjoyed entertaining and throwing parties, as well as volunteer activities and her job at Howard International. Barbara and Ray also had a winter home in Naples, Florida, where they eventually moved permanently in 2010.

They also owned a home in Barry, Illinois (the same house where Barbara grew up, which was built by her great-grandfather in 1899), at which they spent their summers.

In Naples, Barbara founded a gospel singing group in 2007 which became The Steeple People, named after the group she had loved being part of in Connecticut. It consisted of 20-25 male and female singers and was an interdenominational group under the auspices of the North Naples United Methodist Church. Her activities with Steeple People became the joy of her life.

She started a ladies’ book club in Naples called The Book Worms, which also gave her much pleasure.

Barbara also was active in the Naples Council on World Affairs, where she was a greeter at their lectures. She was a member of their Great Decisions discussion groups.

She and Ray loved swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, entertaining friends, and doing some international travel.

She was a lifelong baseball fan, and was excited to see her Cubs finally win the World Series in 2016.

Barbara’s family would like to thank her friends, neighbors, doctors and health aides who took such good care of Barbara and provided her with such strong support.

Barbara was widowed in 2013. She is survived by her daughter, Tonia Elaine Lorenz, of Chicago; stepson Bryan Howard (Brad Daughtry), of Phoenix; stepdaughter Cheryl (John) Lothian and their three children, of Elmhurst, Illinois; sister Leslie Bethard, of San Jose, California; niece Devan (Michael) Hitt, of Quincy, Illinois; and nephew David Silverstein, of Houston, Texas; as well as many grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

A memorial service will take place on Friday, Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. at the chapel at North Naples United Methodist Church. There will be light refreshments and fellowship afterwards. Her ashes will be split between Naples and Park Lawn Cemetery in Barry, Illinois. Services will be held in her hometown at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, Barbara’s wishes were that memorials be made to the Barry United Methodist Church, 720 Perry Street, Barry, Illinois 62312.


Posted 01/05/17 at 11:14 AM  Permalink


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