R. Howard Webster, O.C., B.A., G.C.B. Admin., LL.D (1910 – 1990)
R. Howard Webster, born in 1910, was the third of six children of Senator Lorne C. Webster of Quebec City and Muriel Taylor of Gananoque, Ontario. The family established itself in Montreal, where Howard attended McGill University before going on to Babson Business College in Boston. After graduation, he involved himself initially in family businesses, before going his own way.
Though always a Montrealer, he travelled North America searching for opportunities. He owned the majestic Penobscot Building in Detroit and the Windsor Hotel in Montreal. He won a shareholder battle for control of Eversharp Schick. In a surprise pounce, he bought The Globe and Mail in Toronto, where he later became a founding partner of Blue Jays baseball. Other interests ranged from Detroit Marine Terminals and Burns Foods of Calgary to Quebecair and a ranch to breed exotic cattle in Prince Edward Island. He once cornered the world market for monkey fur, though no one knows quite why.
The important thing about all this activity was that most of the proceeds returned to the community. For this was the other splendid aspect of Howard Webster: he gained his greatest satisfaction from helping worthy causes and worthy people (often anonymously). A shy man with simple tastes and no children, he flew economy class, owned no racehorses and genuinely delighted in giving away his money – applying himself as seriously to disposal as he had to acquisition.
His philanthropy began with institutions that were central to his success, such as McGill and Babson, but his generosity expanded across the continent, particularly Canada, the way his business career once had. He bought medical equipment for hospitals. He endowed scholarships. He invested in agricultural research and in Boys and Girls Clubs. He supported large capital campaigns, but also made scores of small but significant gifts to local institutions out working in the street, among troubled youth, the homeless or families down on their luck.
There was money for neurological research and bilingualism – as well as for Bangladesh, where village girls never knew they owed their schooling to a man who wore running shoes in business boardrooms, instead of fine shoe-leather, because they made his feet feel better and, in any case, he owned the company.
All that, plus a great sense of fun and a constitution worthy of an ox (which kept him vertical when lesser men were falling like flies): a modest, far-sighted, popular, sometimes lonely man, Officer of the Order of Canada: that was R. Howard Webster. He died in 1990, leaving everything to his Foundation.