When Barbara Howard’s term on the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia board was set to end this past summer, foundation Executive Director Randy Redner went to see her and ask about her future with the organization.
Redner wanted to know if, after decades of serving the Gwinnett community in various capacities, Howard — who was in her mid-80’s — was ready to relax a little and move to emeritus status.
She wasn’t having any of that.
“She just looked at me, cocked her eye, gave me that Barbara smile and said, ‘Randy, I’m going to stay on the board,’ “ Redner said. “She didn’t ask me. She told me what she was going to do. Oh so typical Barbara, right? I was, ‘Well, yes m’am, let’s keep going.’ “
Gwinnett County is mourning one of its longtime community servants. Howard, who was involved in a wide range of community activities from the Community Foundation and the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation to the American Cancer Society, died Thursday.
She was 85.
As news spread of her passing, some of the organizations in Gwinnett that she was involved with over the years lionized her for the community service work she engaged in through the years.
“There are people that are simply joy, overflowing,” The Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation said in a statement. “People that make everyone around them feel encouraged and inspired to be better. They are the balance to the negative, the smile, the hug, the beating heart of a destination community.
“Barbara Howard was one of those rare souls you count yourself fortunate enough to share the air with. We feel sad for our loss but overwhelmingly confident that right now she is literally hearing God saying, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ “
A Celebration of Life service will be held for Howard at 2 p.m. Monday at Simpsonwood United Methodist Church, which is located at 4500 Jones Bridge Circle in Peachtree Corners in Peachtree Corners. A brief reception will be held after the service in the Howard Family Center.
Visitation will be held from 2 until 4 p.m. and 6 until 8 p.m. Sunday at Crowell Brothers Funeral Home, which is located at 5051 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Peachtree Corners.
To say Howard was involved in Gwinnett might be an understatement given the broad array of organizations and institutions she was involved with. Redner, who worked with Howard at the American Cancer Society before he joined the Community Foundation, said “her fingerprints are everywhere” in Gwinnett, along with those of her husband, Henry, who died several years ago.
“It’s one of those lives that touches so many people directly and indirectly and will continue (to do so) for decades,” Redner said. “Barbara’s life and personality were so big and so loving, so caring. She was on my board here at the Community Foundation before I got there a few years ago and she remained on there and she didn’t want to roll off ...
“She wanted to be participating. She wanted her hands into the community.”
Howard and her husband founded Suzanna’s Kitchen in 1961 and she ran it for several years. It began in Atlanta, but has shifted to Gwinnett, where it now has two plants with another one under construction.
She was a founding member of Simpsonwood United Methodist Church and remained active in the church. She was also involved with the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation, the Gwinnett chapter of the American Cancer Society, the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia, Rainbow Village and the Aurora Theatre.
She was also a supporter of the Hudgens Center for Art and Learning, the Duluth Fall Festival and Peachtree Christian Hospice.
“My heart is very heavy and sad, yet, (I) am rejoicing that mom is no longer suffering (and) am super grateful for the Lord God Almighty blessing me so massively with such a remarkable and resilient lady to be my mom,” Howard’s daughter, Ann, said in a Facebook tribute to her mother. “(I) will miss her dearly and have her in my heart forever.”
It may be little surprise then that, given all of that involvement, she was named the Gwinnett Chamber’s Citizen of the Year in 2013 and the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation’s Legacy Award recipient last year.
Aurora Theatre co-founder and associate producer Ann-Carol Pence said Howard was “an incredible mentor, legacy patron and treasured friend” for a quarter of a century. Howard was on the Aurora’s first Board of Directors and the theater named its awards the Barbara Awards after her.
“I used to say to Barbara all the time, ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ and at the very first Barbara Awards I sang a song I wrote for her,” Pence said in the Facebook tribute. “She will always be such a special person to me. No one believed in me like she did — without criticism, without strings, she would call just to check to see how I was doing (and to make sure I knew she was in the audience.) Please hug your loved ones close today.”