ػֱ

In Memoriam: Linda G. Howard ’70, Trustee

ػֱ College remembers trustee and advocate for equity and unity.

By Britany Robinson | October 5, 2023

Linda G. Howard ’70 [alumni trustee 1988–92; trustee 1993–2023] was a natural leader and an outstanding scholar and public servant. As a lawyer and an advocate for equality and social justice, she was known for bringing people together and for speaking truth to power while also seeking common ground.

Linda died on September 14, 2023, after years of battling breast cancer. She was 74. Most recently she served as general counsel and vice president of legal affairs for Landmark Worldwide, a professional growth, training, and development company.

Her dedication to ػֱ extended far beyond her graduation in 1970. For 34 years, Linda was an active member of ػֱ College’s Board of Trustees, where she championed for increasing diversity among faculty and students and tirelessly held the college accountable, insisting on data and strategy to guide it forward. Linda was a long-standing member of the Student Life Committee, serving as committee chair from 1996 to 2008. She was also an important member of the Budget Policy Committee. For nine years she served on the alumni board and led the New York alumni chapter committee. As a member of The President’s Commission on Student Life, Linda co-authored a 1993 report, laying out a path for improving the student experience. She also participated in the Alumni of Color Affinity Group, and she generously shared her wisdom and advice with fellow alumni as a career coach and mentor. In 1988, Linda became the first recipient of the Babson Society Outstanding Volunteer Award, ػֱ’s highest recognition for its volunteers.

"Linda loved ػֱ," said President Audrey Bilger. "She spoke of her time here as transformative. She was a ػֱie through and through—inquisitive, impassioned, and empathetic. Her influence on the college was profound. I will miss our long phone calls and being able to seek her advice. I feel fortunate to have known her."

“It was my privilege to work with Linda Howard in my roles for the college over the past 25 years,” said Hugh Porter, vice president for college relations and planning. “Linda was an effective advocate for ػֱ's students and for the adoption of policies and practices that would attract, engage, and support a more ethnically-diverse campus population. Her admonitions had such an impact because of the power of her arguments and her unwavering commitment to ػֱ's educational mission. Also, never has a strong advocate been more fun to encounter. I will miss her.”

Growing up in Ettrick, Virginia, where her father was a biology professor at the historically Black Virginia State College (now Virginia State University), Linda was immersed in academia at a young age. After her elementary school let out, she would walk over to the biology department to sit in the back of her father’s class and listen to his lectures. Linda’s mother also worked on campus, first in the college-run elementary school and later as a math professor. Being raised in an all-Black community of academics was a “different and delightful upbringing,” said Linda, in an interview with UVA Lawyer.

In an oral history recorded by ػֱ, Linda recalled feeling disappointed at the end of each school year–she wouldn’t get to study all summer. This voracious appetite for education continued throughout her life. In elementary school, she looked forward to having homework in high school. In high school, unimpressed by her experience with homework, she longed for more rigorous academic pursuits. “I wanted to immerse myself in something,” she said in the oral history for ػֱ. While studying in Switzerland during her junior year, a classmate told her that ػֱ College was a place where you could do that. She’d never heard of ػֱ, so she ordered a catalog to investigate, then set her sights on Oregon.

Linda started as a political science major and switched to mathematics as a sophomore. Her years at ػֱ were a time of social and political upheaval—the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy took place while she was a student. “The simplicity of math, in the context of the turbulence, appealed to me,” she said.

As a sophomore, she served as chair of the social affairs board. The first Renn Fayre, originally called “The ػֱ College Annual Renaissance Fayre,” was born from her idea and execution—although Linda called the present iteration “a different animal.” She was enamored with her Hum 110 class, taught by Prof. Thomas Price Zimmermann [History 1964–1977], and she wanted to pay homage to the shared experience of ػֱ’s cornerstone class with authentic Renaissance revelry; Linda wore a flowing dress she’d made in the style of the Moors. “I wanted to bring people out of their dorms and onto the lawn, [so] that we could actually be a community together for a day.” She was also the lead singer in a rock band at ػֱ. “We thought we were the Rolling Stones.”

In the middle of the Black Student Union takeover of Eliot Hall in 1968, she was elected vice president of the student body. She’d been a key player in the protest, but suddenly, as her mother pointed out, it was her responsibility to act in the interest of all students. So Linda resolved to get the faculty to vote ‘yes’ on the BSU’s demands as quickly as possible. She achieved this through the clever organization of two-on-two conversations with BSU members and faculty, starting with the most agreeable to their cause, then pairing those they’d convinced with more skeptical subjects. Gradually, faculty members were convincing other faculty members to vote ‘yes’ on establishing the Black Studies Program. Unfortunately, the program was short-lived. But Linda never stopped pushing for more diversity and equity among students and faculty at ػֱ.

Linda wanted to be a lawyer ever since childhood; in third grade she noticed she had a knack for settling playground disputes. Days after defending her thesis, “A discussion of the contributions of Evariste Galois to Galois theory as related to the solvability of polynomial equations by radicals,” she flew back to Virginia to begin her studies at the University of Virginia School of Law. In her second year, after noticing her classmates seemed divided along social lines, she became the first Black and first woman president of the law school student body—hoping to foster more unity. After successfully petitioning for alcohol to be allowed in Clark Hall, she organized a St. Patrick’s Day party for faculty and students, where they served green beer. “It was really bringing together the law students and the faculty in a social commonality such that everyone had a sense of belonging,” said Linda in an interview with UVA Lawyer. She loved law school and excelled in both oral and written arguments, advancing to the semi-finals of the school’s prestigious oral competitions. She graduated in 1973.

After graduation, Linda worked for the United States Department of Transportation as a staff attorney in DC. On her first day she found a photo of President Richard Nixon, whom she disliked, hanging on her office wall. She promptly removed the photo and tucked it away in her bottom drawer. But someone put up a new photo the next day, and the next. Linda kept taking them down. “I kid you not, I had at least fifty of them in my drawers by the end of that first year.”

After that first job in politics, Linda worked as a legislative aid for former Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D–TX). She was on the White House staff under President Jimmy Carter when she received an offer to become an assistant professor of law at The Ohio State University. She took the job to teach evidence, legislation, and sex-based discrimination. Three years after being tenured at Ohio State, she departed to serve as legal counsel to Hunter College President Donna Shalala. Linda wrote Hunter College’s first sexual harassment policy and worked with President Shalala on an affirmative action program that dramatically increased the number of professors of color. She later became a civil rights lecturer, touring New Zealand, India, and Japan. In a questionnaire for the class of 1970’s 25th Reunion, Linda described her career as “indulging my every fantasy about work.”

Linda had a private law practice in 2007 when she wrote The Sexual Harassment Handbook: Everything You Need to Know Before Someone Calls a Lawyer. Men, she believed, were too often left out of conversations surrounding workplace harassment. She wrote the book “to create a common ground on which a conversation could be had. I wanted to provide a new context.”

In all of her work, Linda saw the nuance through the noise, and she often credited that perspective to her time at ػֱ. In her commencement address to ػֱ’s class of 1997, she said her years as a ػֱ student taught her to “engage with people whose beliefs and experiences are different from my own, and I gained a profound respect for the other fellow’s point of view.” She concluded her remarks by encouraging students to, “Listen, learn, converse, engage, be unreasonable, and have outrageous, extraordinary lives!”