Patricia Claxton Howard (right) guided the Girls, Inc. Memphis Chapter for 35 years. (Courtesy Photo)
Patricia Claxton Howard

Patricia Howard enjoyed a “girls’ vaca” with her bestie at the Indian Ocean as they celebrated her 70th birthday in early March. When “Pat” returned home, she started packing for a trip to sunny Aruba. She didn’t get to make that trip.

Mrs. Howard, who headed the Memphis Chapter of Girls, Inc. for 35 years before retiring in 2003, passed away at her home on March 5. A memorial service is planned for Friday (March 15) at 11 a.m. at the McNeil Concert Hall, 613 University St., on the Rhodes College campus. R. S. Lewis & Sons has charge.

After retiring as the Memphis Chapter head, Mrs. Howard worked as a regional director for 15-plus years. Her 50-year tenure touched literally thousands of girls  in Memphis and the southeast region.

“Pat was my mentor, my friend, the model of everything I wanted to be as a professional,” said Lisa Moore, president and CEO of Girls, Inc. “I worked directly with her when I was fresh out of college in 1988.”

Patricia Claxton Howard was the first child of J.W. and Etta Smith. The family home was in a strong “village” community in North Memphis near Chelsea Ave.

Her mother owned Etta’s Hairstyling Center and Boutique on Chelsea Ave., and her father owned J.W.’s Tire Shop across the street. She graduated as salutatorian from Manassas High School and was one of the pioneering African-American students who integrated Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College).

She earned her bachelors degree in Sociology her future husband, Aubrey Howard, on a trip to a student leadership conference. They were married 48 years.

Those who knew Mrs. Howard best remembering her saying that she “could not believe she was being paid to work with girls” because she found the work so stimulating and rewarding.  She also served as executive director for Memphis Center of Reproductive Health.

In 1987, Mrs. Howard was inducted into the Memphis Chapter of Links, Inc., where she served as vice-president, president and financial secretary. She also served on the Youth Services and National Trends Committee for the Links organization.  She could be found frequently developing and inspiring young women through the annual Links Cotillion. In the early years, one of her favorite tasks was to drive debutantes to the Tennessee Black Caucus for their leadership development activity.

Some of the many organizations where Mrs. Howard served were the Memphis and Shelby County Collaborative for American Humanics, the Community Forum, board member of Girls, Inc. (the national organization), the youth council for the local (Memphis) Work Force Investment Agency, the Memphis Regional Planned Parenthood Board, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, and the Blue Ridge Institute for Community Services Executives in the Southeast.

Mrs. Howard was a member of Leadership Memphis ’86. She received the 2017 Girls Inc. of Memphis SMART Award, The Black Students Association Alumni of the Year from Rhodes College in 2004, the 1999 Pinnacle Leadership Award from Youth United Way, the Thomas W. Briggs Award from Community Service, the 1997 Mertie Buckman Mentor Award from the Women’s Foundation, and the 1992 Women of Achievement Vision Award.

“I have the honor of speaking at her service on Friday,” said Moore. “I want to make sure people know what a truly wonderful person she was. Somehow, she found time to work with the Coalition For the Homeless. Memphis has lost a great treasure.

“I want everyone to know that she fought her battle with cancer like she did every other challenge in her life – with grace, strength, and beauty. Pat was courageous in the fight.”

Mrs. Howard leaves her husband, Aubrey James Howard; a son, Adrian; a sister, Deborah Walker; a brother, Esperdrone Smith; a niece, Patria Walker; a nephew, Drew Smith; two grand-nephews, Malachi and Micah Stewart; cousins: Judy Pierce, Adrienne Davis, Pamela Dotson, and a host of other relatives and friends.