Howard Hall will tell you that the same elements of his personality which made him a successful self-made businessman also contributed to his achievements in politics.
“When you’re running your own business, to succeed you have to be a people person. But at the same time, you can’t be afraid to be a bit abrasive,” he says. “The same’s true in politics.”
“Now there’s a recipe sure to attract both political supporters and detractors,” he laughs.
“Some people are going to love you, some hate you – no matter what you do while you’re in office. You do what you feel is right, knowing you can’t possibly please everyone.”
It bears out the old adage that you can’t please all the people all the time. And it was an approach which served Howard well through three successive terms as Scugog’s third mayor. Unlike other former mayors in our series, Howard hesitates initially when asked his motivation in entering political life.
“I’m not sure why I did it,” he chuckles softly, speaking about his successful bid for a seat on the former Port Perry council in 1969. Then, after further reflection he adds: “I’ve always been a person who was ‘very involved.’ And both my wife and I have deep roots in Port Perry, so I feel strongly about the area.”
Howard was born in Toronto, moving to Port Perry in the 1940s after an industrial accident claimed his father’s life. “Coincidentally, my grandfather had died the year before my dad, leaving my mother a house in Port. Living was less expensive here than in Toronto, so my mother moved us here. And then I married a local girl, and settled here for life.”
That “local girl” turned out to be Zula Jackson, his wife of almost 60 years. “We had our first date January 4, 1944, skating at the old Port Perry arena,” he remembers with extraordinary clarity.
Settling in Port Perry, Howard began his working career with his new father-in-law, Ted Jackson, selling farming implements. In the off-season, Ted’s business shifted to appliances, a fact which would prove influential in Howard’s later ventures.
“Eventually Ted Jackson’s Appliances was remodeled and the store began to sell a combination of appliances and furniture. Not long after, the ‘House of Howard’ was born and Howard operated the store for 35 years in downtown Port Perry.
“Later on, we acquired a Radio Shack franchise – in small towns, they didn’t do stand-alone stores in those days – and that became part of the business, too. We were probably the first to sell computers in Port Perry!”
Long before entering into the politican arena, Howard was an active volunteerer in the community. He served on Community Memorial Hospital Board for more than 20 years and also on the Lakeridge Health Board. More recently he has also been active on the Durham Access to Care Board.
Always interested in youth, he spent many years as a leader with the Port Perry Scouting Association, was president of the local Figure Skating Club and has been an active supporter of the Port Perry MoJacks.
Howard’s first venture into municipal politics was almost his last.
“They brought in regional government just as my term on Port Perry council was finishing. I didn’t support that decision, so I got into volunteer work instead. I’d been involved with the Hospital Board as a councillor, and continued working on that project.”
As the first president of the Hospital Foundation, Howard says he learned a valuable skill and discovered a latent talent. “We were a committee of ten responsible to raise money for hospital expansions. I found I had a flair for fundraising and an aggressive strategy for kick-starting the process”, he recalls.
“As committee members, we couldn’t ask for public donations without first supporting the process ourselves. So I started by making my own contribution, and insisted the rest of the group match it. It worked.”
As rewarding as his fundraising efforts were – campaigns for the Mojacks Hockey Club, Port Perry Arena, and local baseball diamonds would follow – Howard had been bitten by the political bug.
Mayor Howard Hall 1988
And when history proved to him that the regional concept could indeed work for Port Perry, Howard returned as a Scugog councillor in 1985. Three years later, he was ready for an even bigger office.
“When I learned Jerry Taylor wasn’t going to run again, I ran for mayor in in the fall of 1988. It would be the first of three terms.”
Howard says he maintained a steady hand on the community’s tiller during those nine years. “I’m probably most proud of the Community Centre because it was much needed. It was a challenging project which required cooperation from the federal and provincial governments as well as our council.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we did anything ‘huge,’ but we kept things running smoothly. Low taxes and good roads: that’s what people want in rural areas. And we gave them both.”
Leaving the Mayor’s office didn’t signal retirement for Howard Hall. He remained a staunch community supporter, spearheading further fundraisers using his “ante-up” philosophy among committee members.
“Just like I’d done with the hospital, I lead off with a contribution and asked for the committee to follow suit. In one case, the amount was $10,000. One member told me: ‘Howard, I was prepared to make a contribution, but my wife’s going to kill me when I tell her that much!’ So I replied: “Don’t tell her until after you sign the cheque!”
Evidence of Howard Hall’s boundless passion and energy can be found all around town. Those tell-tale signs begin in his own living room.
“As Mayor, I was anxious to support every fundraising drive. Several of those involved prints done by local artists – that’s why you see so many of them in this room!”
Howard continues his involvement with the Mojacks’ organization to this day. The team, an obvious passion in his life, plays its home games in the arena he helped to build.
When a heart attack struck in the early 1980s, help was available at the local hospital whose expansion numbered among his significant fundraising projects. When he coached minor sports, his teams used ball fields for which he had gathered local support.
True to his tireless commitment to the community, volunteer work still occupies a considerable amount of Howard’s time and energy.
While he indicates sports and history as consuming passions, Zula, he says, disagrees – at least according to a playful comment he shares with me.
“’Howard,’ she says to me sometimes, ‘your hobby is going to meetings!’”
By Scott Mercer
Focus on Scugog