Lancaster Mayor John Howard dies

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By Greg Summers

Four months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Lancaster Mayor John Howard died Tuesday night at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. He was 67.

“He fought so hard and would have wanted nothing more than to have had more time with his family, friends and beloved city of Lancaster,” daughter Shelley Howard-Robinson said in a post on Caringbridge.org.  “Unfortunately, his lungs and body were just too weak, though his spirit was so strong until the end.”

City administrator Flip Hutfles notified The Lancaster News of Howard’s death just before midnight after receiving word from Howard’s wife, Karon.

In public office for 35 years, Howard was the longest-serving elected official in Lancaster County.

He served on the city council for 33 years before voters chose him as mayor in early 2016 to fill the unexpired term of the late Joe Shaw.

“To me, the saddest thing is because of his health, John wasn’t really able to become the dynamic mayor that he truly wanted to be,” said former City Administrator Helen Sowell, who worked with Howard for more than three decades as a city employee.

“John made a part-time position into a full-time one simply because he had a passion and commitment for the city.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Green Garris said making things better in his hometown was always a priority with Howard, second only to his family.

“It’s a tremendous blow,” she said. “He always believed in doing what was right for the city, and you could expect that with every decision he made. His love and compassion was always there.

“Outside his family, John ate, slept and woke up to the city of Lancaster. It’s a great loss, and he’s going to be missed.”

Howard attended the Jan. 9 loading of the jury pool at the Municipal Justice Center, and Green Garris saw that he was pushing through an illness.

“I can recall him saying that day that he thought he had pneumonia,” she said, noting that the mayor was hospitalized a week later. “If there was any way for John to be there, he was going to be there.”


Started in 1982

Howard started and ended his political career filling unexpired terms.

In November 1982, city voters chose the 32-year-old insurance salesman to fill the unexpired term of city council member Maxie Hammond, who had resigned because of health issues. Eleven candidates sought four city council seats in the November 1982 midterm election. According to The Lancaster News archives, Howard was the top vote-getter in every district. He finished with 912 total votes.

Since Howard was filling an unexpired council term, he was sworn into office 48 hours after the results were certified.  

After the race, Howard told TLN he thought it was his “no-nonsense” approach that helped him get elected.


Solid mentor

Lancaster County school board Chairman Bobby Parker got to know Howard in the mid-1990s after he was hired as a salesman for Kanawha Insurance, now Humana.


“John was a vibrant man,” Parker said. “He wouldn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, but what you needed to hear, and he always spoke the truth. He had a sharp mind and a quick wit.”

Parker said Howard never made decisions before hearing from every side.

“I always went to him because he was an excellent listener,” Parker said. “He always gave solid advice.”

Green Garris urged the community to be in prayer for Howard’s family in the coming days.

“We should take time to remember all his accomplishments,” she said. “John not only served the citizens of Lancaster, he also served his country and his God. He was faithful to the end.

“You know, I can’t help but think that he and Mayor Shaw are sitting around in heaven swapping all those old stories and laughing about them.” 


Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.