Howard remembered as contributor to community, family and business
Linda Howard was one of the founders and driving forces of a billion-dollar enterprise.
But she was just as strong of a force at home as she was in the schools and communities, and she had a soft touch when that was needed, too, said those who described her legacy after she passed away on Wednesday.
She quietly helped countless people who were struggling. But there was nothing quiet about the way she supported her family — or called out referees and umpires.
“She loved her family more than anything,” granddaughter Karly McCoy said. “They were the center of her universe in every way. She never missed a game or event that her children or grandchildren participated in over the years. And she could always be heard keeping the referees and umpires straight while cheering on the Tornadoes, Mustangs or Braves.”
What couldn’t be heard, though, was her tooting her own horn or patting herself on the back.
“She moved mountains and did it silently, not like many who need their every small deed known by all,” Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee said.
Their “Gran-Gran” was an “adopted mother and grandmother” to dozens and dozens of friends of her children and grandchildren over the years, McCoy said. “She provided a wonderful example of generosity with her caring heart.”
Howard was known for her love of Christmas, doing all she could to share her spirit of the season.
“If someone was having a hard time around the holidays, she always made it her cause to make their lives a little brighter, in some special way,” McCoy said.
She and her husband Billy Howard founded Howard Industries, Inc., in Laurel and grew the company into the billion-dollar, multi-faceted enterprise that today employs more than 4,500 — the largest employer in Jones County. HI produces more distribution transformers than any company in the United States, and there’s now the trucking company Howard Transportation, Inc., the ballast-producer that became Howard Lighting and the computer company Howard Technology Solutions.
It seems that Linda Howard always had an eye for making mergers and moving quickly.
“Billy asked her to marry him the same night he met her,” McCoy said, recalling a familiar family story. “But she did not accept his proposal until after midnight, she was quick to point out … so she technically made him wait a day for her answer.”
They met while she was working and studying as a doctoral student at Indiana State and he was working for GE there in Terre Haute. They were married 48 years.
She was selected as one of the Fifty Leading Business Women of Mississippi by the Mississippi Business Journal and served on boards for Mississippi Power Company and Mississippi FutureNet Technology Board.
But her work with local organizations, especially in the schools, will be her legacy in the community. As a team, the Howards developed the Adopt-A-School Program and established a grant program for area schools, public and private.
“Many of the students and parents are not aware that they sit in air-conditioned classrooms because of the efforts of Mrs. Howard,” Magee said. “We mourn the passing of this wonderful lady.”
Tommy Parker, superintendent of the Jones County School District, said, “Mrs. Howard understood that improving education improved our community.”
Jerome Wyatt, who is president of the Jones County Board of Supervisors, said her loss is huge because her contributions were impossible to quantify.
“Her contribution to Howard Industries breathed life into our community and made Jones County a better place,” he said.
Jones College President Jesse Smith said that the school and the Howards have been connected since the company opened in Laurel in 1968.
“The partnership between Jones College and Billy and Linda Howard cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but rather in the thousands of lives that have benefitted through their generosity,” he said when the couple was selected as the Leader-Call’s Persons of the Year in 2013.
“It would be impossible to put into words the value of Linda Howard to this community,” Leader-Call owner Jim Cegielski said. “They could have located their business anywhere in the world, but they chose to stay in Jones County, to help make a better place to live for their children and grandchildren and to provide opportunities for tens of thousands of other families over the years.”
Not only did they grow their business over the years, they helped other businesses, too.
“The untold story is their involvement in helping get other businesses started and more businesses in our area,” said Mitch Stennett, former executive director of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County.
Mrs. Howard wasn’t all business all the time, though. She loved dogs, “making friends with every dog she met,” McCoy said.
Known for the bright-colored cane she used after her knees began to fail, Mrs. Howard helped brighten up the community and countless people over the years.
“She supported our children and provided opportunities for enrichment and growth that will not soon be forgotten,” said Lacey Walters Slay, who is spokeswoman for the Laurel School District.
“Untold number of lives have been touched through (the Howards) and she was a big part of that,” Ellisville Mayor Lynn Buckhaults said. “She was a very fine lady.”
Mrs. Howard grew up in Perry, Ga. — her father was superintendent of schools there — and got her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Mercer University in Macon and she got her master’s at the University of North Carolina. But the lessons she learned and taught weren’t just academic.
“She loved and accepted people where they were and didn’t try to change them,” McCoy said. “She didn’t try to put them in a box. She just accepted everyone as is. She loved so big!”