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Remembering Keith Howard 1931–2021

It is with profound sadness that we have learned of the death of Dr Keith Howard OBE, President of Opera North, and a benefactor of the arts and sport of exceptional vision and generosity.

Born in Withington, Manchester, Keith was brought up in West Yorkshire, attending primary school in Horsforth and then Leeds Grammar School, where he was a leading sportsman and stage performer. Before his voice broke, he sang the role of Carmen in a school production of Bizet’s opera.

After his marriage to Yorkshire-born Pat Hainsworth in 1952, Keith worked in mining in South Africa for several years; but the couple strongly disliked the apartheid regime there and returned to England to bring up their family. Later, Keith joined the University of Bradford Management School, eventually directing its doctoral programme in management studies. It was here that in 1967 Keith and his colleagues formed Management Consultants Bradford, the predecessor of Emerald Publishing, which went on to become one of the world’s leading independent academic publishers.

Emerald’s success enabled Keith to direct very significant sums to his chosen causes: in 2009 he created the Emerald Foundation, which makes grants of more than £1 million a year to charities in West Yorkshire in the fields of sport, performing arts and animal welfare.

Melissa Fojt (left), granddaughter of Keith Howard, HRH The Duke of Kent (centre) and Keith Howard (right) at an event to celebrate the naming of the Howard Opera Centre © Amy Charles

As a teenager, Keith began attending concerts at Leeds Town Hall and elsewhere. A moment of revelation occurred one night when he heard Kathleen Ferrier sing. From that moment on the power of the human voice was central to his love of music.

Keith and Pat became devoted supporters of Opera North after its formation in 1978. For very many years, Keith saw as many productions as he could from his seat in the front row of the stalls. As his tastes developed, Wagner became his favourite composer, and as chairman of the Opera North Future Fund, he was instrumental in the realisation of the Company’s critically acclaimed Ring cycle between 2011 and 2016.

Keith’s support for Opera North grew exponentially over the decades. At first it took the form of membership of the Friends and modest levels of donation. After a visit to the Grand Theatre in 2003 he made significant donations towards the Transformation fundraising campaign, both personally and through the Emerald Foundation. The Transformation project delivered major improvements to backstage facilities and the restoration of the Assembly Room adjacent to the theatre as a performance space. This was named the Howard Assembly Room in recognition of Keith’s generosity. Thereafter, the Emerald Foundation made substantial donations to the Future Fund.

Entrance to the new Howard Opera Centre, 2021 © Tom Arber

In 2018 came the announcement that Keith was to make a personal donation of more than £11 million towards Opera North’s major Music Works redevelopment project, which will be completed later this year. Without Keith as benefactor, this visionary and transformative project in the heart of Leeds would have been simply inconceivable.

Richard Mantle, General Director of Opera North, comments:

‘Keith’s love of opera, his passion for Opera North, and his total commitment to the Company’s success enabled us to embark on the Ring cycle and more recently he stepped up to support our Music Works project with unprecedented generosity. Without his intervention and support Music Works would never have got off the ground and my real sadness is that he was unable to witness the realisation of his and our dream of the Howard Opera Centre and Howard Assembly Room.

Keith was a man of great vision, determination, courage and not least wit, for which he will be fondly remembered. There is no doubt that he has set his own seal on Opera North’s future, and his extraordinary legacy will live on in the Company’s new home, which will benefit countless artists, audiences and young people in the years to come.

We send our sincere condolences to Pat and the family.’

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, comments:

‘Keith Howard was an outstanding benefactor of the arts and without equal in his generosity towards Opera North. His personal and financial support for the company has been one of the cornerstones of its success in recent years and we mourn his loss to the musical world and to communities in Leeds and across the North of England.’

Header image: (left–right) Tenor Rafael Rojas, soprano Giselle Allen, Keith Howard and composer and kora player Seckou Keita at the launch of the Music Works redevelopment fundraising campaign © Tom Arber


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