I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
To discover, at his memorial service, that Dr. John Addison Howard’s favorite verse of Scripture was Philippians 4:11 came as no surprise to anyone who knew him well. Those who had simply met him once or twice, or never bothered to take the measure of the man, might find it hard to believe, though, because Dr. Howard burned every moment with a passionate intensity. You could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, feel it in the gestures of his hands. He knew that there were many things wrong with the world today, and if he did not know how to fix them (and very often, of course, he was certain that he did), he still knew that he—and we—had to try.
The fire that burned inside of Dr. Howard was not that of ideology—“the fire in the minds of men” that consumes all that is good in the world and lays waste to tradition and to faith. It was, rather, the fire of faith—a Christian faith so deeply held that it became as much a part of his body as of his soul. His faith wasn’t an intellectual exercise but a reality, inseparable from every other aspect of who John Howard was—and who he is, because the resurrection that he believed in is real. Not that he ever doubted that—thus, his contentment in the face of all troubles and trials and tears.
There were other things Dr. Howard believed in that seem less real to many people today. Decency, civility, kindness. Honesty, integrity, loyalty. Family and country and a sense of place. The destruction of each of these at the hands of selfish individualists on the left and the right perplexed him and pained him. Halting that destruction, and rebuilding the country he loved, became his life’s work. It led to the founding of The Rockford College Institute, the hiring of Leopold Tyrmand, the creation of Chronicles, and the decision to separate The Rockford Institute from Rockford College, when a new president of the college made it all too clear that Dr. Howard’s vision had no future there.
But Dr. Howard never held against others the wrongs that they had done to him. On that gloomy day in November 1995 when I interviewed for the position of assistant to the vice president of The Rockford Institute, John told me—for the first of many times—the story of the infamous defenestration, in May 1989, of Richard John Neuhaus as director of the Institute’s Center on Religion and Society. He ended his account not with the removal of Neuhaus from his New York office, but a few weeks earlier, when he received irrefutable proof of Neuhaus’s treachery. “That,” he said, “was when I knew we were not dealing with an honest man.” He did not utter those words in anger, even though, in the intervening six years, his own reputation had been damaged by scurrilous misrepresentations of the event. Instead, I could see the sadness in his eyes, as he recalled the betrayal of a man he had regarded as a colleague and a friend.
For my first 21 months at The Rockford Institute, I had the great pleasure to occupy the office—an old (barely converted) sleeping porch—across the hall from John’s. We were usually the first to arrive, and we began many mornings with a cup of coffee and a brief conversation in his office, before he would settle down to his writing—in longhand on a legal pad. When I moved across the driveway to Chronicles in September 1997, those conversations became less frequent and shifted to the parking lot—except on those bitterly cold winter mornings when I would forget my key, and John would invite me next door for a cup of coffee while I waited for my wife to bring it.
At my interview in November 1995, John also told me the story of John H. Manny, the inventor of the Manny Reaper and the cousin of Dr. Howard’s ancestor John P. Manny, whose portrait hung on the wall beyond John’s desk chair. Years later, after I published “Last Ride” (May 2004), a column which begins with a meditation on the importance of visiting cemeteries, I received a gracious note of praise from John, which he had handwritten, stamped, and sent through the postal service to arrive in my mailbox one building over. He invited me to join him for a walk through Greenwood Cemetery, the temporary home of Rockford’s finest generations.
We spent a hour or so wandering through Greenwood that day, while John regaled me with the stories of all those who had made Rockford what it was and what he hoped it would someday be again. We ended our all-too-brief tour at the grave of John P. Manny, where Dr. Howard recounted once more the great reaper wars of the 19th century, the inferiority of the McCormick Reaper, and John H. Manny’s Pyrrhic victory in a patent-infringement case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court but cost him his health, and shortly thereafter his life. I did not know then—John did not mention it—that the bare patch of ground on which we stood would be his own resting place until the final trumpet sounds.
May God grant Dr. John A. Howard blessed repose and eternal memory.