After a lifetime of practice and preparation for the moment, the soul of John Leonard Howard departed on February 4th, 2024. The very last words he left with us were, "You know, I had a good run."
John was born on September 15, 1934. The second eldest of seven children, John grew up in the caretaker's house behind the gates of St. Peter’s Cemetery in London, Ontario where his father, Leonard, worked as a cemeterian. Before joining the family business, John earned accolades as a gifted athlete playing football and basketball at Catholic Central High School, where he set multiple records. He continued competing in adult city league basketball with his prodigiously framed brothers, forming a notorious team called the Fat Cats, who challenged and thrashed the area collegiate teams in London. He lamented that his equally gifted sister, Mary Margaret, would have contributed to their success had she been allowed to play.
He was a quiet young man who worked in construction during the week and served as an usher at Blessed Sacrament church on weekends, where he turned the head of a lovely French Canadian school teacher, Celine Gervais. She and one or more of her thirteen siblings, would routinely arrive late and ask the handsome young usher with the Elvis Presley hairstyle to sneak them into a back pew. When they were finally introduced at a party a full year later, however, it wasn’t the hair that she fell for. Still waters run deep, and Celine was drawn to John’s soulful eyes and selfless nature. Celine will say that she fell in love with John when he planned one of their first dates to include a Friday night mass and dinner at his parent's house in the cemetery. Clearly, the man had moves! They fell in love during a summer courtship in Grand Bend and were married on July 7, 1962.
Common sense dictates that God would give a grave-digging, sports-loving, hardhat-wearing Canadian like John Howard a son with whom to partake in manly things together. But as fate would have it, John and Celine had three daughters — Lisa, Patty and Jillian. And that’s exactly as it should have been. For more than anything, John was a gentleman, and a gentleman achieves his truest purpose in a lady adored. It’s doubtful that three women ever felt more celebrated by their father than John’s daughters. To them, he was simply the sweetest man who ever lived. In the ebb and flow of life’s relentless tide, he now had four anchors, including Celine, to steady him and guide his dreams.
That’s how it came to be in 1978, after half a lifetime of readiness training, that John was ready to meet his professional destiny. When Lisa and Patty were teenagers, John pulled stakes from London and moved the four beloved ladies of his life halfway across Ontario into a musty old house in Cataraqui Cemetery.
Like his father before him, John accepted a position as a live-in caretaker on the grounds of a cemetery. The historic and not entirely structurally sound house is where they made their home. They braved restless spirits, questionable neighbours, and an endless amount of cemetery jokes. But all that just gave the Howard girls character. Ask anyone. Thanks to his handy resourcefulness, and creative direction from Celine, a Nationally significant building was restored to its glory, and Howard/Gervais family and friends traveling the 401 knew they always had a warm meal and a place to stay anytime they needed it.
For John, the cemetery grounds breathed new life into his career. A self taught architect and engineer, he tapped his years of construction expertise to design and build mausoleums, cemetery offices and a crematorium. In 1984, he rose to the pinnacle of his industry, serving as President of the Ontario Association of Cemetery and Funeral Professionals. He flourished as a member of The Knights of Columbus. Sir Knight John Howard rose to the level of Fourth Degree Knight while putting his faith into action to serve families in his community.
By moving to Kingston, John and Celine gave their family the gift of Buck Lake. They spent summers hosting an endless parade of family members at their humble cottage. During those visits, you could always find John manning the barbecue while others ate, or driving the boat while others skied. He delighted in providing beautiful memories for so many people.
John's career culminated in a leadership role within the development team at Mount Pleasant Group, where his passion and experience combined to create meaningful spaces to memorialize loved ones. A decade later, during his active retirement years on the shores of Lake Huron, John would apply his construction and leadership skills while working with the local church in Forest, Ontario to oversee the construction of affordable housing for aging congregants. During his leisure time, John entertained his ever expanding number of grandchildren and hosted large family reunions — on the sunset-kissed beaches near Grand Bend where he first fell in love with Celine.
This would be an ideal point in the story of John’s life to fade him into that lakeside sunset, but the world is rarely ideal, as John would tell you. There was a final chapter in his adventure — whether tragic or inspirational, you be the judge. Five years ago, John began exhibiting signs of vascular dementia. The condition worsened to the point that he had to be moved into a full-time care facility two years ago.
What happens when you strip a kind and gentle man of the memories that define his life and give it meaning?
His family will tell you that what remained was a dignified elderly gentleman in a crooked straw hat who greeted you with an impossibly wide smile on his face. John, in his final years, remembered the love he had for you even if he didn't remember your name. He remembered the music. He remembered the parties. He remembered the kindness in the world. Most of all, he remembered that he was loved. John Howard lived to make life — and death — easier on others. And that twinkle he had to the end, was the shining gratitude he felt for the big beautiful family who gave him a full, blessed life.
John is survived by his adoring wife of 62 years, Celine (Gervais) Howard, and their loving daughters, Lisa (Daniel Cerone), Patty (Kevin Harris), and Jillian (Geoffrey Bowman). He will be deeply missed by his grandchildren, Lou and Jasper John Cerone, Brynn and Mitchell John Howard Harris, and Justin (Emily), Madison, Liam, and Declan John Howard Bowman. John leaves behind his brothers, Michael (Barbara), Lawrence (Christine), Edward (Linda), and far too many in-laws, nieces and nephews, to name.He is predeceased by his parents, Leonard and Noreen (McMahon), and his siblings, Ken, Mary Margaret, and Peter.
Flowers or plants are welcomed and can be sent to the funeral home. Or you can honor John's lifelong commitment to service by making a charitable donation (of funds or your time) to an organization in your community. Your contribution will continue his legacy of compassion and dedication.
Info: If so desired, you can honour John's lifelong commitment to service by making a charitable donation (of funds or your time) to an organization in your community. Your contribution will continue his legacy of compassion and dedication. Flowers or plants will also be received by the family at the cemetery if you prefer to send them.
Info: Please note the final resting place for the late Mr. Howard will be at Meadowvale Cemetery. When visiting the cemetery, you may stop by the office to receive a location map or use the cemetery app at https://www.mountpleasantgroup.com.