David Howes was Passionate about his Home Town
The workers at his business, their families, the athletes, and the educational and health institutions that all helped make both Lincoln Fabrics and the Niagara Region thrive inspired and fuelled Howes too. That’s why his decision to leave one of the biggest philanthropic gifts ever given in Niagara – and now entrusted to the Niagara
Community Foundation – makes sense to his spouse, Susanne Di Lalla.
Di Lalla, who says the decision was Howes’ alone, also says the $18-million gift fits perfectly with the love, dedication, and gratitude Howes felt for his Niagara home.
The size of Howes’ gift, the timing of the announcement (in his will), and its intended beneficiaries (post-secondary education, health care, education, research facilities and humanitarian issues), all match the character of the man and make perfect sense, she said. Ironically, Howes never intended to make Niagara his home, but after returning – briefly, he thought – to help his father, Stewart, with the family business, he ended up staying. And once he had made the decision to stay, he became utterly devoted. “They were his family, they were his friends,” she said, of the people who worked at Lincoln Fabrics. “He never had any family of his own and he would never stop, at any level, to make sure everyone was okay.”
That dedication extended to the rest of Niagara. “He was so supportive of everybody,” she recalls of the man who loved to joke and laugh, but who also was intensely private, and who made significant contributions throughout his lifetime of both time and money to causes both public and private.
“He was such a loyal individual, and he cared for the community so much,” she said. He had attended other schools, but devoted time and resources to Brock University. St. Catharines was a GM town, so he only ever drove GM vehicles. He didn’t like a spotlight shone on him, but he was willing to speak up for a cause he believed in. He
had a bellowing voice and could present with a gruff demeanor, but underneath he was a “teddy bear” – although he implored Di Lalla not to let on that she knew. “He was there for the underdog too.”
Lincoln Fabrics, the Port Dalhousie textile company that was sold by his estate after his death but which remains a functioning business in the Niagara Region, was not always a thriving enterprise. Howes took dramatic risks and worked tirelessly to keep it afloat, positioning it in a niche, global industry which required constant innovation and investment to remain competitive. Lincoln Fabrics’ ultimate success was due to the leadership Howes provided, said Rob Wilson, the lawyer who handled his final wishes and who serves as one of the trustees of the David S. Howes Foundation, but Howes would also say the success was due to the dedication of the employees.
Howes died of cancer in 2015, just short of his 75th birthday. In his later years, he travelled the globe with Di Lalla, played golf with his buddies, and doted on the couple’s five grandchildren, but Lincoln Fabrics remained his passion, Di Lalla said, and “he was never going to retire.” Howes and Di Lalla had already established a named family
fund with the Niagara Community Foundation, but the estate gift was as much a surprise to Di Lalla “as it was to the rest of the world.” Wilson and the executors of Howes’ estate were entrusted with implementing Howes’ wishes. Their decision to turn to the Niagara Community Foundation to manage the task fits with Howes’ appreciation for efficiency and competence, Wilson said, and speaks to the confidence Howes and Di Lalla demonstrated in making the earlier gift. “We are honoured beyond words,” said Bryan Rose, Niagara Community Foundation Executive Director.
Howes did not have children of his own, but his successful business – and now this gift – serve as his legacy, both Di Lalla and Wilson said. Howes’ discomfort with attention may explain why he told no one of his plan, but the legacy is one of which those who knew and loved Howes are now proud. “His contributions to community efforts were because he loved it,” Di Lalla said. “He loved this community, and he wanted to see it prosper and grow.”