Ken really was the father of SAG-AFTRA. Committed leaders worked for Merger for decades. But, Ken, like the courageous little boy who said, “The emperor has no clothes,” told us that we could not achieve lasting benefits for our separate unions while simultaneously working for Merger. Instead, first and foremost, we must commit to creating a single union, while also working for our other goals. He lead us through that complex process without wavering, and was elected the first President of SAG-AFTRA. And he was right. Look at the amazing accomplishments we never would have achieved as separate unions, but have gleaned since we became one.
-Maureen Donnelly, National Board Member and New York Local First Vice President
I stood behind Ken Howard throughout his Presidency, which was initially laser focused on the historic merger of SAG and AFTRA, and then on the pursuit of defining the new Union. Literally – in most all the official SAG-AFTRA photos – I stand next to, or behind him. I think this destination accurately represents my relationship with President Howard. I supported his vision through three TV/Theatrical Negotiations, tackled a week of Labor College at the very beginnings of Merger, and through the years, got to know an actor with profound knowledge and depth of what it takes to create and sustain a storied career. When Ken came to visit Seattle, (as part of the President’s Task Force for Education and Outreach, which he appointed me to) he was able to get to know our Community through visiting Broadcasters at Local Stations, attending the SIFF Opening Night Gala, lunch with the Local Board, and finally, addressing a thoughtful membership at the Labor Temple. I was very proud of Seattle that weekend, and I know Ken left with a great appreciation of our Local. Finally, though, his death was much more difficult for me than I ever would have anticipated. Ken Howard listened intently and treated everyone around him with great ease. This made him a true leader, actor, and most of all – friend.
-Abby Dylan, National and Seattle Local Board Member
This anecdote is from the early days of the path to merger when I marveled at Ken's boundless energy during a whirlwind few days in New York City. While this happened several years ago, Ken’s dedication, energy and sense of humor remained with him every day of his time as our President.
“Monday, November 22, 2010 A Day (or Two) in the life of Ken Howard
As Thanksgiving approaches, I want to reflect on our President.
Last week, Ken was in NY for the first of many "listening tours," an evening with members from specific contract areas in both unions. That happened on Thursday evening, and was attended by a couple dozen mostly rank and file members, not usually afforded the opportunity to sit with two union Presidents and talk about their misconceptions, fears and concerns with merger. It wasn't a brainstorming session, or a blueprinting of a proposal. It was simply members offering unique and personal anecdotes about their specific areas of work. Members of the (joint) Presidents Forum and The SAG/AFTRA Task Force were also there, as were members of AFTRA's Strategy Cabinet.
Much has been made of this by some who felt excluded, as some sort of elitist exclusionary super-secret gathering. Emails began to fly and then tragically, the ballyhoo somehow made its way to the blogs.
What most don't know or haven't re-imagined, is what the rest of that day was like for President Howard. I'd like to talk about it because I was there. Ken spent several hours (plus travel time on a bus) at the Lillian Booth Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ, accompanying the joint SAG and AFTRA Senior Performers committees, a group that got the rare chance to get face-time with the President. It meant a great deal to them. We had lunch and a complete tour of the facilities, including the common areas, assisted living, private living and long-term care. From the Alzheimer’s wing to physical rehab to intensive care, Ken saw all six acres of it with graciousness and compassion. When he sat briefly for dessert, he turned to me and cracked, "Zazzi, I'm so exhausted right now, that in about 5 minutes, I'm thinking of checking in."
With a short break in the day, he went on to the "listening tour," I described above and spent several more hours, again interacting with members that don't have access to him as others of us might. His energy and sense of humor intact, he sat beside Roberta Reardon and all of us saw two leaders who get along beautifully and are dedicated to merger. One question that came from a member that night was "Is there a timetable?" Ken deadpanned "Yesterday." After acknowledging this was going to be a process, he gleefully repeated his mantra: "Are we there yet? "
On the previous Monday morning, he called in to the SAG/AFTRA Task Force Meeting, literally on his cell phone at the airport going through check-in and boarding until we heard the airplane doors closing. Ken flew in late Monday night to NY from LA, and the very next day, spent all afternoon at the Guild offices in NY, meeting with the entire staff in two separate lunch shifts to praise and thank them for their dedication and hard work. It meant a lot to our staff to meet our National President and I marveled at his energy and the personal way he greeted each member, from the mailroom workers to senior staff. I wish more NY Board members had attended; only a handful were there.
After having spent weeks as National Chair of TV/Theatrical in day and night negotiations, he hit the ground running toward merger, and made the most of every minute he spent in NY, on his way to that first meeting of the historic “listening tour.”
Having spent significant time with Ken at these three NY events, I had to wonder what his downtime is like (if indeed there is any). And then I realized, at some point, he's reading and responding to various emails, and no doubt to many that criticized this early process — this first listening tour — for leaving them out.
So, with Thanksgiving only a few days away, I'd like to acknowledge how much I appreciate Ken Howard. A leader must be willing to deal with criticism and questions, but he should also be told how grateful we are for his service.
-Liz Zazzi, National Board Member
Ken Howard's enormous personality, verve, and sense of humanity certainly made a difference in the lives of so many New Yorkers. As a Councilor of the Lambs Club, it was a delight to be part of the team for our Shepherds luncheon honoring Ken. The ballroom was full of fans and admirers that day. No surprise – Ken was a terrific speaker. He sang, he confided, he threw out his notes and spoke from his heart. He touched everyone in attendance! As a National and New York Local Board Member for SAG-AFTRA, as well as New York Chair and National Co-Chair of our Women's Committee, I'm especially touched to let you know that on March 26th at the theater of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) we held our annual SwanDay (Support Women Artists Now Day) event capping Women's History Month. With over 200 attendees, representing about a dozen organizations, it was voted by acclamation to dedicate our New York SwanDay to the memory of Ken Howard. Once again, a huge room full of love and admiration for this Great man. Thank you Ken Howard.
-leslie Shreve, National and New York Local Board Member
It’s taken me some time to gather my thoughts and feelings following the sudden devastating loss of my friend and mentor, Ken Howard. As the first duly elected president of SAG-AFTRA, Ken Howard set the template for what a great leader of this union should be. Ken’s greatest gift as the President of SAG-AFTRA was his ability to listen to, and then manage with aplomb, the many raucous and opinionated union leader and activist voices. He would then set the course. He let staff do their jobs. He didn’t micromanage. He would put other union leaders into positions of leadership on committees and then let them lead. He always allowed space for dissenting opinions, always sought, continually, counsel from many different angles. He showed up. All the time. He logged thousands of miles traveling around the country to all the locals, talking to everyone he could, all as a volunteer leader of a great union. From the beginning of his journey with our union to the end, he was committed to making our working worlds better, committed to making the union better, and committed to hearing and telling a great story. I will miss him, and would like to share two remembrances. His gleeful jump, fully clothed, into Gabrielle Carteris’ pool, during a party celebrating the successful merger vote. And the beginning: a group of members gathered around in a circle, again at Gabrielle’s house, discussing who we could get – after all, who would want to? – to run for president of SAG. Ken listening and engaged on the sofa. His turn came to speak. A slight pause. “I could run.” The astonished excited brief silence in the room, followed by a raucous roar of approval. It was so obvious who the natural leader in the room was, and we were all so excited to have found the right person to lead us on the journey ahead.
-William Charlton, National Board Member
Ken Howard, a great unionist, was a man of many talents. His greatest talent was his selfless work on behalf of performers and his generosity, caring and commitment to SAG-AFTRA and its' members.
-Elaine LeGaro, National Board Member
It is no surprise to me to hear stories of Ken’s generous and giving spirit in recent days. The tremendous impact he had on so many lives, in so many ways. It makes his loss so much larger. For me, I feel like I have so many thoughts on losing Ken, and we all have lost so much. He was my leader. For the past eight years, I have supported Ken and been lifted by his leadership. I would have followed him into a burning house, and on more than one occasion, we all followed Ken’s leadership in trying situations. He was my mentor as a union leader, gave advice when I needed it and had a way of actively listening. I have lost count of the conversations we had where a 60 second question turned into an hour long conversation. They always ended with me feeling heard, a bit wiser, and with a decided course of action. When I needed him to show up on a topic we were fighting for, he did so, even if he thought it was a long shot. Even if he wasn’t sure he agreed with me, he showed up. As well as my President, Ken was my friend. I will miss his voice in my ear, his true caring. I will miss listening to his encyclopedic memory of those he has worked with over the years, and anecdotes of his lifetime of experiences. The constant theme is unrequited kindnesses Ken bestowed on people he knew, or people that simply crossed his path. He was unique, and a pillar for me. I cannot fathom not raising a glass to Ken at Marie Callenders one more time.
-Stacey Travis, National Board Member
On today, March 28th, which would have been Ken's 72nd birthday, I am thinking so much of his wonderful personality, his smile, his humor and willingness to listen to and help in any way he could. He truly cared about all creatures great and small! A remarkable man who will be missed
-Susan Snyder, National Board Member
I remember meeting Ken in 2008, when my fellow SAG Council member Rachel Harker and her husband Rick Lombardo brought him to Boston for his remarkable turn as Tip O'Neill in a very successful run of According to Tip at New Repertory Theatre. We both shared a passion for stage as well as film, and Ken was a font of knowledge about American theater (as well as countless other subjects). His stories and anecdotes of his life as an actor often left me in stitches, and though he had a career that most would envy, he always spoke so humbly and gratefully about his experiences. As we got to know each other better, I could see how focused he really was on the need for our two unions, SAG and AFTRA, to merge, and how intent he was on seeing it through. Even before he had considered running for SAG President, his energy and conviction in finally making merger happen was evident – such a welcome stance to those of us who began to despair that merger would never happen. Ken's dedication to the merger effort, and his desire to help make SAG-AFTRA all that it could be were only a part of what made him such a great leader. He cared so much about the life of a working actor, and was an inspiration to all those who worked with him in the board room. It was a privilege to be appointed by him to the group that would put forth the plan for merger after he'd been elected as SAG President. Thank you, Ken, for all you've done for us. You are the heart and soul of SAG-AFTRA. We won't forget you.
-Bill Mootos, National and New England Local Board Member
A thousand thanks are not enough to express my gratitude for Ken’s focused leadership and acting legacy, all rendered as a professional and a gentleman. We are all better for it. Take one more curtain call, Mr. Howard, you’ve earned it. Godspeed, Ken.
-Ric Reitz, Atlanta Local President