Former QCT city editor Frank Howard dies at 77

Former Ottawa Citizen columnist Frank Howard began his career as a reporter at the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph in the mid 1950s. He made his way up to the position of city editor.

Among those he mentored at the Chronicle was a university student named John Gray, who spent two summers reporting for the Quebec City daily from its offices on Côte St-Sacrement.

In 1956 Gray was hired by then editor Owen Shannon, also a United church minister. Gray worked with city editor Frank Howard.

“I had never studied journalism,” said Gray, in an interview from his home in Ontario. The retired Globe and Mail journalist still pursues his craft.

Back in his Chronicle days, Gray explained that he reported on “what was left over,” adding, “There were very few reporters.” Among the stories he recalled covering were a Canadian Medical Association convention at the Château Frontenac and military exercises at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick.

In 1957, he had approached Howard: “There’s a big march to the Gaspé in support of the strikers from Murdochville.” He hitched a ride with the steelworkers. “I was extremely lucky. I had all kinds of opportunities.”

Gray even managed to write about the “tail end of politics,” with “a cover story on the 1957 election when the Liberals were defeated,” and Diefenbaker became prime minister of Canada.

“It was wonderful reporting for a kid. I had a good city editor who could help me along.” Reporter and editor became good friends. They sustained that bond for over 50 years.

“[Frank Howard] was the one who taught me about journalism,” said Gray. He was “very knowledgeable about Quebec.” Howard played a “delicate role,” explained his friend. “He was an Anglo Quebecer and fluently bilingual.” He wanted to explain Quebec to the rest of Canada and the rest of Canada to Quebecers.

“He did it successfully for a while,” offered Gray, about Howard’s work as Quebec City correspondent for the Globe and Mail.

Howard passed along the basics to Gray, “the simple structure of a story: keep your sentences short, keep your paragraphs short, use active verbs and keep it simple.”

The two were a good match: Howard was always there and Gray “was eager to learn.”

“I got a wonderful start there. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Chronicle … not a moment of regret,” said Gray.
When Howard left the Chronicle, he travelled and worked around the province, ending up at the Montreal Gazette and the now-defunct Montreal Star.

The native Montrealer, born in 1931, had more to accomplish. Howard’s newfound mission – in Gray’s words to “somehow rescue the country” – led him to the Globe and back to Quebec City.

His skill earned him a job with deputy minister Allan Gotlieb as director of communications. Howard took his knowledge of the system and transformed it into a column in the Ottawa Citizen that lasted almost 20 years. He retired in 1994.

Frank Howard died on Thursday, February 28, at the age of 77, in Mexico. He died of complications due to lung cancer. He leaves to mourn his wife Geraldine Castle-Trudel, his four daughters, and his first wife, Patricia.