Mitchell Dean Howard
November 21, 1960 – January 6, 2017
Mitchell Dean Howard arrived into this world on November 21, 1960 with a smile on his face and music in his heart. His loving, precious soul touched everyone in ways that will leave a tender mark in our hearts forever. His smile melted hearts and brightened a room. Mitch gifted us with his presence, his essence, his intellect, his humour, his goofiness, his ability to create community and his love.
Mitch was born in Edmonton, Alberta to Calvin and Lauretta Howard. Music was in his DNA and it was his calling to live a life rich with singing, playing music and performing. In his early childhood days, the living room was his stage. With his siblings and cousins, they created and performed many grand productions that included singing, dancing and acting out many voices for a receptive audience of 2 (his parents). His uncanny ability to mimic any voice, any dialect made for gut-wrenching laughter. Experiencing Mitch and his son Cole’s “schticks” with a plethora of impersonations was beyond compare.
Mitch’s performing and musical talents continued well into his teen years. At age 12, he starred as “Kurt” in a community production of The Sound of Music. Then at age 16, played “Pharoah” in the church production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”. Mastery of music continued with playing the trumpet and beginning a fine appreciation of a broad range of music of all genres and time periods from Bach to Queen, Mahler to Miles Davis. Mitch advanced his love of music at U of A, with a degree in Music and Education, with Distinction, of course. He honed his trumpet skills in NYC studying at the Manhatten School of Music. He later pursued more formal education continued at University of Victoria where he earned a Masters of Education in 2005 focusing on community music making. While his formal education was impressive and an IQ of 148, it was his informal learning, self-directed learning and thirst for more knowledge that defined Mitchell’s intellect and philosophies. He was a true renaissance man knowing something about everything. He was a wicked Scrabble player and mastered the ‘art of the real estate’. Few people could beat Mitch at Scrabble…his oldest daughter Brett was his fiercest competitor.
Mitch’s winning smile, joie de vivre, love of performing, gift of singing and his easy natural rapport with children landed him his first job teaching Gr. 3 and Music at Collingwood in Edmonton and a choir director position at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. He honed his teaching skills and grounded his teaching philosophy largely influenced by him mom Lauretta and other exceptional mentors. This would build his foundation for his exceptional legacy on Salt Spring Island.
On a family trip to the Gulf Islands (age 12), Mitch turned to his mom and said, “I’m going to live there one day”. This pursuit of a dream and ‘changing it up big’, has been gifted to his youngest daughter Kate as she pursues her own draw to an island and the ocean. Mitch fell in love with SSI on a visit in 1995. He knelt down and picked up beach stones in his hands and declared, “now I am home”. Shortly thereafter he accepted a music teacher and principal position at the Salt Spring Centre School (SSCS). His first marriage ended and his three children, Brett, Cole and Kate moved back to Edmonton while Mitch continued the contract at SSCS. The lure of the coast, the mild weather, music and island life was all that Mitch needed to settle into life on SSI. After SSCS, Mitch was hired with SD64 and enjoyed various teaching positions including dance, woodworking, music at the elementary and middle school levels and adult education. He capitalized on his island hopping teaching positions by creating the “Band on the Boat” initiative. He also accepted a position as the Youth Director for the Anglican Church. Mitchell was influential in the music education system in BC, acting as the president of BC Music Educators Association, followed by acting as editor of the BCMEA magazine and columnist for Canadian Music Educator.
Shortly after settling on SSI, he joined a choir called “Tuned Air”. He met the love of his life a year later while singing in the choir. Jennifer was a single mom with four children: Pippa, Simon, Daniel and Robyn. Jen was also a music enthusiast and had an equally infectious laugh and smile. They married in 2000 and began a lifetime of love, laughter and magical moments. Mitch embraced, loved and nurtured Jen’s four children as if they were his own. He largely influenced and encouraged the innate musicality of Simon, Daniel and Robyn and admired Pippa for her wisdom and work ethic.
Mitch and Jennifer enjoyed several years of making music of many kinds. Together they founded the Children’s Honour Choir, and were a dynamic duo with Salt Spring Singers as conductor and accompanist. Their playful bantering made music and magic. There was always a sense of oneness, joy and wonder at his concerts. He built community everywhere he went.
Mitch and Jen were true soul mates, best friends, loved deeply and helped each other shine and grow. They settled into their home on Woodland Drive and began to create a home filled with love, music and a lot of wood! Mitch embarked on a monumental undertaking by renovating their home. His love of woodworking began with the kitchen renovations and continued throughout his house. He constructed the cabinetry and prided himself on each and every detail. He branched into making exquisite fine furniture, each a unique creation. He was passionate about wood and what he could create with it. His weekend gig at Windsor plywood brought him closer to woodworking and home renovations as well as many wonderful friendships. One step into Mitch and Jen’s house and it is evident that Mitch’s essence in in every grain of wood.
Mitch was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in April, 2008. His attitude towards this disease was always to ‘be at one with it’. He embodied acceptance and alignment over anger and hatred towards cancer. In fine Mitch form, he ensured he was well versed in all the treatments, protocols, and stats to be empowered and knowledgeable to have honest and real conversations with his care team. Beyond his knowledge though, it was Mitch’s relationships with his doctors and nurses that made him an exceptional patient. All throughout his illness even in his weakest and scariest moments, he always managed a smile, a song, a performance, a dance, a joke or a laugh. This undoubtedly afforded him a few extra years to beat the odds so he could experience life in ways that may not have been possible. Together with his brothers Owen and Trev, they experienced the beauty and architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin with a bit of scotch tasting thrown in. He was able to dip his toes in the icy Atlantic waters with him mom on a glorious trip to Newfoundland. He was able to complete his gifts to every sibling and manage to build the pièce de resistance for Jodi. He crafted a shared vision with Dori to renovate a SSI property that embodies every ounce of his presence and the calmness and serenity of his soul. He was able to take road trips with his kids and the entire blended family while singing racy tunes at the top of their lungs. He lived to see the birth of his two granddaughters, Freya and Rowen. And finally, he was able to spend many more tender loving moments with Jen. Mitch left an imprint in everyone’s heart and soul.
On January 6, 2017, Mitch passed away beautifully, peacefully and comfortably with Jen, Dori and his mom by his side holding his hands, while his own carefully designed playlist of music flowed through the room. Mitch was always about the music and he is now where all music originates. He left this world with a peaceful glow and wee smile on his face.
The family wishes to thank the BC Cancer Agency for many years of exceptional and professional care.The family has deep gratitude for the entire staff of Lady Minto Hospital, especially his physician and friend Magda Leon, his friend and nurse Isy and many more who laughed, cared and loved Mitch as their own.
The family is collecting stories of Mitch. Please feel free to submit a short, succinct paragraph to share your fondest experience of Mitch. Submit to: www.haywardsfuneral.com
A Celebration of Life is taking place on Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 2:30 pm at Salt Spring Middle School, 120 Rainbow Road, SSI. Reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, Mitch requested that donations be made to Lady Minto Hospital Foundation where he received compassionate, loving, exceptional care over the past 8 years and in his final days in the sweet suite!