Carlos Clifton "Cliff" Howard, Jr.
May 9, 1958 - July 27, 1998
It wasn't the first time I'd seen Cliff around, but the first time I remem ber seeing him was in June of 1981 digging little trenches to drain water from the courtyard of Armstrong Park's Jazz Complex. That was for a Robin Tyler concert that LAGPAC sponsored to partially fill the void left by the absence of any official Gay Pride event in New Orleans that year. His presence there was so typically Cliff in that his ego never stood in the way of his assisting in the most menial of chores.
It was also in 1981 that he became involved with the newly formed Crescent City Coalition, in which he played a leading role for years. He simultaneously became active with LAGPAC, serving on its Board of Directors for several years and as Co-Chairperson of its one-time New Orleans Regional Chapter.
Considering his Southern Bible Belt background, it was truly amazing that at so young an age he had such a positive self-image that he was openly gay in the homophobic atmosphere of Avondale Shipyards. Because of his computer expertise he received the respect and even the admiration of his co-workers. He also put this expertise at the disposal of more than one organization, including the 1987 Louisiana March on Washington Committee, LAGPAC and PFLAG.
During the mid-eighties Cliff lived with Ted Wisniewski and Henry Schmitt, through whom he met and became good friends with a number of people in Arkansas. About 1988 Cliff met and fell in love with Ron Waldridge. Their wonderful time together was tragically brief as Ron died of AIDS on January 3, 1991. Cliff was devastated.
Some time later Cliff's own HIV positive status permitted him to take a medical retirement. After staying several months with my lifemate, Alfred Doolittle, and me, he moved to Atlanta, where his lesbian sister Linda lived. There he could also be closer to his family in Dothan, Alabama.
His retirement benefits allowed him to travel extensively across the U.S. and Europe, where in Germany he developed another close circle of friends.
During these later years he was a frequent and welcome visitor in our home, often for extended periods. Never a burden, he assisted with mailings and errands, undertook special projects for us and always, but unintrusively, assisted with planning, preparing for and cleaning up after parties. Though cooking was not his forte, he was uncannily adept at assisting, anticipating what needed to be done and always staying out of the way. Cliff never missed Mardi Gras, for which he conceptualized and executed unique off-the-wall costumes.
But it wasn't just celebrations that he came in for. He was here much of last December and January sitting countless hours with Peter DeLancey during his final days.
"Clifford," which I frequently called him, did have one annoying habit. He slithered in and out of our house without telling anyone. Unless he was in sight we never knew if he was present. But that's the worst criticism I ever heard of him from anyone.
Early this year, when Cliff heard of the HRC boycott because of its failure to push for the inclusion of transgendered persons in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he conceived the idea of comparing HRC's symbol of an equal sign with the reality of an unequal sign.
Although Cliff had developed some health problems by the time Alfred and I left for a trip to Alaska on July 12, the plan was for him to come to New Orleans sometime before our return, pick up the PFLAG computer, install it in our house and be on hand to instruct me in its use. But while we were gone, we learned he'd taken a sudden turn for the worse and we were thinking in terms of heading for Atlanta immediately upon our return. By chance, the night before he died we bought a Native American dream catcher to bring him, not realizing we were to see him no more.
The day he died Atlanta was deluged with rain the likes of which it seldom sees. His sister Linda said it was the tears of joy from his friends greeting him into heaven.
I feel blessed to have been his close friend for so many years. I miss him terribly. His dream catcher is attached to our kitchen ceiling fan's pull cord.
--Stewart P. Butler
P.S. A soiree to celebrate Cliff's life is planned for October 24th. For details call Stewart at 504.523.3922.
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