Passages: Remembering Jack Howard

Lewis & Clark mourns an influential leader from its past.

Lewis & Clark mourns an influential leader from its past.

In any history of Lewis & Clark College, John “Jack” Howard would figure prominently. During his two decades as president, he helped raise the college’s academic stature and expand its physical campus for generations of students. He died on June 16, at age 90, after a short battle with cancer.

Howard arrived at Lewis & Clark in 1960, fresh from leadership positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Lake Forest College. He was just 37 years old. He assumed the presidency from Morgan Odell, another much-admired leader, who headed the college during its first years on Palatine Hill.

Event in Honor of Jack Howard

Lewis & Clark will host “The Howard Years at Lewis & Clark: 1960–81,” a special event honoring the legacy of Jack Howard, on November 1. The event will include an exhibition on his accomplishments at 3 p.m. in the Diane Gregg Pavilion, a formal program at 4 p.m. in Agnes Flanagan Chapel, and a reception following in Stamm Dining Room. For more information, contact the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs at or 503-768-7950.

Howard served as president from 1960 to 1981, one of the most socially and politically tumultuous eras in American history. He was a champion of academic freedom and free speech and invigorated campus life with a roster of compelling speakers, including Ayn Rand, Eric Hoffer, Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem, and many others. That commitment to lively give-and-take, both inside and outside the classroom, continues to this day.

By temperament, Howard was a builder, both literally and figuratively. More than 20 campus buildings were constructed during his tenure. In fact, he came to be called “a man with an edifice complex,” a title he relished and was fond of repeating. In 2005, in a fitting tribute, the college named its new social sciences building, John R. Howard Hall, after him.

In the early 1960s, Howard recognized that Lewis & Clark graduates “must be prepared to travel, to understand other cultures, to speak other languages, to believe in and work toward a world none of us had known to date.” He also faced soaring campus enrollments that had placed undue stress on the college’s physical campus. In response to both the philosophical and the practical, he launched Lewis & Clark’s overseas study program in 1962. Today, this program is one of the hallmarks of the college; more than 60 percent of Lewis & Clark students end up studying abroad.

Also during his tenure, he oversaw the merger of Northwestern School of Law and Lewis & Clark College. Howard later wrote in his memoir that it was one of the key elements that “helped to define” his administration and in which he took great pride. But perhaps Howard’s most enduring gift to Lewis & Clark was his expansive vision. “Jack’s boundless energy and imagination transformed Lewis & Clark,” says current president Barry Glassner. “He was extremely instrumental in making the college what it is today and extending its reputation nationally and internationally.” 

In addition to Ruth Howard, his wife of 67 years, Jack is survived by children John Howard and his wife, Carol; Linda Fisher and her husband, Emerson; Rebecca Emerson and her husband, Barrow; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Photos courtesy of the Howard family.

Two Decades of Accomplishment

During his 21-year presidency, Jack Howard forever changed the academic stature and physical imprint of the college. Here are a few examples:

  • He launched our signature overseas and off-campus study program, now entering its 51st year. Since 1962, more than 11,000 students have participated in this program.
  • He doubled the number of full-time faculty and students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • He presided over the merger of the college with Northwestern School of Law, creating a day program with full-time faculty and students to complement the existing evening program.
  • He led the construction of several major buildings, including Aubrey Watzek Library, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Pamplin Sports Center with Zehntbauer Swimming Pavilion, Fir Acres Theatre, Olin Center for Physics and Chemistry, the law school campus, and numerous residence halls. He also oversaw many renovations and small projects that helped energize campus life.
  • He shepherded Lewis & Clark’s transition into an independent liberal arts college that continued to affirm its historic ties with the Presbyterian Church.

Reflections on Former President Howard

“He was open to almost any idea. He wanted to make Lewis & Clark the most exciting place you could think of.”Don BalmerU.G. Dubach Professor Emeritus of Political Science

“What was it like to work with Jack Howard? If I had to use only one word, I would say ‘stimulating.’ Buildings were always in progress. Ideas were flying. Styles were clashing. Jack was always on the cutting edge.”John BrownFormer Dean of the Faculty and Provost

“Jack was one of the primary movers who fought to have the law school merged with the college and accredited nationally. His firm leadership in the law school’s development—against some strong resistance at the time— now shows his vision was monumental.”Ron LansingProfessor Emeritus of Law

“Precious was each occasion experienced with Jack Howard. His vitality, imagination, and inspiring leadership were determining elements in Lewis & Clark’s advancement and maturation.”Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. ’64, ’65, ’66Life Trustee

“Jack engaged everybody on campus. He knew everybody by name. When students returned from their overseas study programs, he and Ruth invited them to their home for dinner. They had amazing dialogues. It was a way for him to take the pulse of students.”Dell SmithProfessor Emeritus of Health and Physical Education

“Jack was a man of great imagination. His natural reaction was to reply in the positive to a problem. If dorm space hadn’t been at a premium in the early 1960s, we may not have launched the overseas study program at that time.”Hester TurnerFormer Dean of Women, Former Dean of Students

“When I was a student, the college lost a significant gift due to a controversial speaker I helped bring to campus. I felt terrible and went to Jack. He said, ‘The liberal arts are about discourse— you learn from people you agree with but maybe more from those you disagree with.’ It’s a moment I return to again and again. His comment helped crystalize my own educational philosophy.”Amelia Wilcox BA ’81Assistant Professor of Psychology and Former President of the Board of Alumni