Michael Howe's dedication to Niagara-on-the-Lake never wavered.
The 74-year-old, who died Dec. 29 after a battle with leukemia, was a fierce advocate for preserving the history and charm of the town where he grew up and met the love of his life.
Marsha Howe, his wife of 46 years, recalls when they met as teens on a double date at Queenston Heights.
“Just rolling around in the grass,” she says fondly.
Michael was 16 and Marsha only 14 at the time.
Shortly after that fateful afternoon, both Michael and Marsha went to Toronto to pursue their education, with Michael heading to Queen's University at a young age, having skipped some grades in school.
“He went off to university quite young and quite ill-prepared,” Marsha said.
But things worked out well and Michael graduated with a master's in business administration — a step toward his lifelong career as a chartered accountant, which took him all over the globe.
“He was an A-type personality. He really dug his heels in.”
He ended up being the first MBA hired by Peat Marwick International, which later merged with Klynveld Main Goerdeler to form KPMG, one of the world's largest accounting firms.
He officially retired when he was 64, but never really stopped working. Until November 2020, he had been doing risk management in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Michael was moral and well-respected in his career, Marsha said, adding she's been stunned by the number of people he's worked with and mentored.
On top of a greatly successful career, Howe fought hard for to protect the heritage of Niagara-on-the-Lake — a passion that was ingrained in him his whole life.
His father Norman was a founding member of the Niagara Foundation, which actively fights to preserve the town's history. His mother Margherita was a founding member of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Conservancy.
Michael took over as president of the Niagara Foundation from 2012 to 2020.
Brad Nixon, vice-president of the foundation, said Howe was ” instrumental in maintaining and keeping the foundation as the force that it is today.”
“He provided leadership. He provided a vision of where the community should be going and some of the issues that we should be advocating on,” said Nixon.
“It meant a lot to them. It was consistent with not just his own views but what he inherited from his mother and his father.”
In a light anecdote about the type of person Michael was, Nixon recalled a time at a party when Michael's sister Louisa was tasked with preparing some food.
“And she produced sardine sandwiches,” he said.
“I don't know where the the idea came from, but we put them on the table and by the end of the day, as you can imagine, there was all sorts of excellent food, but the sardine sandwiches weren't touched.”
“So at the end of the night, Michael started auctioning them off with all proceeds going to Willowbank. And he raised several hundred dollars for Willowbank by auctioning off the sardine sandwiches.”
Nixon said he'll remember Michael as a “very good friend.”
“And not just a personal friend but as a real friend of the entire community. A friend who was supportive and hoped for the best interests of the community and worked for the best interests of the community.”
In his personal life, Michael loved to travel the world, enjoyed fine foods and wine, nice cars and hosting parties. Plus he always made sure he was well-dressed, Marsha said. He also had a keen wit and “scathing wit.”
“He could make me laugh, laugh, laugh laugh, laugh my ass off — before it became popular,” Marsha said. “It would often start first thing in the morning, before your eyes were even open he'd throw out something funny at you.”
“And his addresses at the annual parties were kind of classic Michael.”
“He loved good food and good wine. He loved good living,” Marsha said, adding he was “meticulous about how he presented himself.”
He was also “terribly house-proud,” she says.
“The house is always immaculate. I have never had to vacuum or dust. That was something that he always did — the garden was immaculate.”
Michael also loved animals, Marsha said, especially his dog Buster, a Brittany.
He travelled so often, he became a million-mile flyer with Air Canada.
His favourite places to go were London and Capri, an island in Italy's Bay of Naples.
It was on his last trip to Capri when he started to notice he was getting out of breath from walking the hilly area. That was the first sign of his leukemia, Marsha said.
“I thought it was absolutely crazy because my sister's lived in Italy for 15 years. And she has a place on Capri, so we've been to Capri like eight or nine times. We're very familiar with it.”
When they returned home last Christmas, he was diagnosed with pre-leukemia, Marsha said, and from there underwent extensive treatments, including stem cell transplants and chemotherapy.
He had even been approved for an experimental treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, but fell ill and was unable to participate.
He fought hard and loved life, Marsha said.
“We had a great time together,” she says.
The couple renewed their vows two years ago in Niagara-on-the-Lake.