In 1876, the transcendentalist thinker and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in one of his essays a pithy reflection on a life well-lived: “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.” Perhaps no words better describe the well-lived life of William M. Howard, better known as Bill by those privileged to know him, who passed away on June 26, 2020. Bill was a longtime supporter of Phoenix Art Museum, who in life contributed works that enriched the Museum’s collection, such as the bronze sculpture Steel Worker (1909) by Chester Beach. Now, through a planned gift, Bill’s generosity continues to sustain the Museum for future generations.
Born during the Great Depression in 1934 in Chicago, Bill grew up as an only child in a loving family in the nearby suburb of Oak Park. His mother, who worked in a chocolate cherry factory, and his father, who worked as a security guard in a bank, nurtured his intelligence and interests. He eventually left home to attend the University of Missouri, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He continued on to the university’s School of Law, where he earned a Juris Doctor degree with honors and served as the valedictorian of his graduating class. Later in life, he helped establish the “William M. Howard Award in Legal Research and Writing” at his alma mater.
Through his hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and determination, Bill enjoyed incredible success in a number of professions. Along with practicing law, he served as an expert legal writer and researcher, a college professor, a professional arbitrator for the New York Stock Exchange, and a movie producer. He also established several successful international businesses and opened the first nationwide travel agency.
Along with his professional pursuits, Bill led a rich and meaningful life in many other ways. He was a good father to his children, Stephanie and Bill. He was an explorer and one of the first to earn Pan Am’s million-mile distinction, circling the globe many times over as a lifetime member of the airline’s legendary Clipper Club. Later in life, he traveled to all seven continents with his partner, Iris—including the icy tundra of Antarctica, the rainforests of the mighty Amazon, and the untamed wilderness of Australia. Bill was also a lifelong learner with an unquenchable curiosity, returning to school at the age of 60 to earn a PhD from Arizona State University.
And he was a consummate lover of the arts. Bill especially loved contemporary art, filling his home with beloved pieces he acquired not for their potential value but for what they meant to him. He was a longtime member of the Circles of Support at Phoenix Art Museum, a place he loved so much he purchased a co-op located two short blocks away so that he could walk across a single, sleepy neighborhood street and visit the Museum as often as he pleased.
In his estate plans, Bill bequeathed that home to Phoenix Art Museum. Through his planned gift, along with a gift from his charitable trust that further benefited the institution, he made it so that a place which brought him closer to the Museum could now help to bring others closer as well. His generous gift will help ensure that future generations—young people with a similar thirst for knowledge and art—can make his Museum their Museum, for life.
Phoenix Art Museum was so much more than a building to Bill, even more than a collection of works. It was a second home, a place where he made friends, fell in love, and found a piece of himself. He believed in the Museum, refusing to give up on the possibilities of what it could be and the ways it could bring people together, the ways it could grow, change, and improve. Just as he was for those in his life whom he most loved, Bill was always there for the Museum and could always be counted on when it mattered most, giving freely of himself and his support. His commitment to the institution was marked not only by its length but by its depth.
Bill is survived by his children, Stephanie Howard and Bill Howard; his former wives and dear friends, Sally Howard and Sandra Dumas; and his partner of 21 years, Iris Wigal. On behalf of all of us at Phoenix Art Museum, we are deeply grateful to him and his family for their profound generosity to our institution and the community we serve. Bill will never be forgotten.