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NLM Retiree Howard Mourned

By Melanie Modlin

Frances Humphrey Howard, 88, a special assistant to the associate director for extramural programs at NLM from 1970 until her retirement in 1999, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 23 at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, D.C.

The sister of the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey was a force in her own right. At NLM, she worked to improve communication programs for medical research. She organized groundbreaking meetings of voluntary health agency executives, to expose them to the information programs and services of the library and to encourage greater use of these resources. Howard was also a gifted liaison to members of Congress, informing them of the coming importance of biotechnology and encouraging the creation of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at NLM. That arm of the library, charged with collecting, organizing and disseminating knowledge about molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics, has seen tremendous growth in staff size and usage of its online resources since its creation in 1988 — especially since the mapping of the human genome.

Frances Humphrey Howard
"Fran Howard was a dynamo," noted NLM director Dr. Donald Lindberg. "The nation, including the NLM, is much indebted to her for her tireless support of scientific research to provide hope for all who need it."

Raised in Huron, South Dakota, Howard had the Humphrey family gift for public speaking and a seemingly endless capacity to care for people. In more than six decades in Washington, her government service was intertwined with community service on behalf of many organizations. She is credited with helping the Museum of African Art become a Smithsonian museum and she served as a trustee of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, the National Capital Children's Museum and the Washington Opera, among many others.

In the early 1940s, she was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's assistant for employee activities in the National Civil Defense Office. In the 1950s, Roosevelt tapped her to become a director with the then newly organized United Nations Association. In that capacity, Howard traveled the world, promoting cultural understanding, health care and other causes. She later became a foreign service officer for the State Department, working on projects ranging from sustainable development in Bolivia to birth control in the Philippines.

Especially in the last years of her life, she created strong bonds with people she met and mentored through the Hubert Humphrey Fellows, an international exchange program begun by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, in which professionals from developing countries study in the United States.

Survivors include two children, Minnesota District Court Judge William Howard of Minneapolis, and Anne Howard Tristani of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and five grandchildren. Her marriage to Dr. Ray Howard ended in divorce.

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