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Howard, Sir Henry Rudolph (Harry) (1890–1970)

by Jenny Gregory

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Sir Henry Rudolph (Harry) Howard (1890-1970), businessman and lord mayor, was born on 20 April 1890 at Sale, Manchester, England, son of Frederick Joseph Howard, solicitor's clerk, and his wife Mary Jane, née Harris. Educated at Sale School and Manchester Technical School, where he received some accounting training, Harry joined the Manchester Gas Co. as a clerk. In July 1912, after his health deteriorated, he migrated to Sydney with his widowed mother, brother and sister.

The family settled at Mosman. A keen chorister, Howard met his future wife Beatrice Thelma May Tilburn in the choir of Mosman Congregational Church, where they were married on 7 February 1920. Music continued to be a vital part of their lives. They moved to Perth in 1924 and Howard became manager for William W. Wyper, who held the Australian agency for Edison and sold phonograms and Ediphone dictating machines. The firm, Phonographs Ltd, became an institution in the city. A partner from 1934, Howard successfully diversified into household electrical goods. Following a merger in 1957, the company became known as Vox Adeon Howard. With the introduction of television to Perth in 1959 the business boomed—by 1960 the company had twelve branches and dominated electrical retailing in the city.

Howard was sometime president of the Perth Rotary Club, the Perth Chamber of Commerce, the Federated Chambers of Commerce and the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia, as well as chairman of the Radio Traders' Association and honorary consul for Finland. From 1954 to 1968 he was chairman of the Congregational Union of Western Australia. In 1955, with the support of Perth's business community, he was elected lord mayor at his second attempt. Decent and circumspect, with conservative values and a keen sense of decorum (he habitually wore a dark, three-piece suit and a homburg hat), he brought considerable dignity to the position. A good public speaker, he never lost his strong, north-country English accent.

Chairman of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games organizing council, in 1956 Howard—and his town clerk Allan Green—made a successful bid for the 1962 Empire and Commonwealth Games to be held in Perth. His support for the building of an Olympic Pool in Kings Park, an area of bushland that had been preserved by Sir John Forrest, caused huge community debate. Two attempts to carry legislation permitting the pool failed, and to Howard's irritation he was nicknamed 'Pip' (Pool in the Park). A lover of roses, he created further controversy—and was satirized in a poem by Randolph Stow, 'The Utopia of Lord Mayor Howard'—when he was said to have instigated the replacement of eucalyptus trees by rose bushes along Kings Park Road.

Howard was knighted in 1961. Early next year, it was proposed that the lights of Perth be left on all night for the American astronaut John Glenn during his first orbit of Earth. The State government supported the suggestion but Howard, doubting that the lights could be seen from space, said that it was 'morally wrong for public money to be wasted'. Condemned by the press, he was further embarrassed when a visiting American millionaire offered to pay the city's light bill. In a unanimous vote, the City Council then agreed to leave on all the lights of the city for the night. Glenn thanked the people of Perth from his spacecraft, Friendship 7, giving the forthcoming games a tremendous boost, and Perth was tagged 'City of Light'.

Invited to New York to take part in the ticker tape parade for Glenn, Sir Harry accepted, again attracting critics who cited his initial stance on the lights issue. Undeterred, he set off for New York, his trip financed by the Journal-American and Qantas. Wearing full mayoral regalia, he and his wife were in the third car in the procession, following Glenn in the first car and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson in the second.

Sir Harry was appointed K.B.E. in 1963, and travelled to London to receive the accolade from the Queen. In 1964 he lost the lord mayoralty. He died on 11 August 1970 in hospital at West Perth and was cremated with Congregational forms; his wife and their two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gregory, City of Light (Perth, 2003)
  • Daily News (Perth), 25 Jan 1962, p 1, 29 May 1967, p 15, 11 Aug 1970, pp 1 & 3
  • West Australian, 20 Feb 1962, p 1, 23 Feb 1962, p 2, 12 Aug 1970, pp 6, 12
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 4 Mar 1962
  • J. Bannister, taped interview with Keith Howard (1999, Perth City Library)
  • K. Howard, ‘A Pool in the Park. Why Not?’ (research paper, 1984, privately held)
  • Howard papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jenny Gregory, 'Howard, Sir Henry Rudolph (Harry) (1890–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howard-sir-henry-rudolph-harry-12992/text23485, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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