Ron Howard is known around campus as “Mr. GW” – the smiling, easy-going ally of students, administrators and alumni. Friends from way back when and just this year alike are eager to share their glowing memories of Howard, GW’s director of alumni admissions for the past decade.
They came from all across the country Tuesday when the University awarded Howard its highest honor, the GW President’s Medal.
“If there is anybody who epitomizes the essence of GW, it is Ron,” said longtime friend and colleague Kathryn Napper, director of undergraduate admissions. “For the numbers of hours he has unselfishly given, for the number of lives he has touched positively, he is truly a rare commodity.”
Howard announced his decision to take a leave of absence earlier this year and retire this summer, partially for health reasons, marking the end of a long and productive career at GW. A fixture in the GW administration for more than 35 years, he worked in numerous positions in offices throughout the administration.
Since GW launched the alumni admissions program 10 years ago in its first concentrated effort to garner intensive alumni support, Howard’s leadership made the program an unequivocal success, Napper said. His influence brought the alumni admissions program increased prestige, participation and resources, she said.
“Ron is great at showing people such genuine interest and enthusiasm for what he does,” she said. She points to the thousands of alumni Howard has befriended over the years as evidence of this. “He makes the alumni feel especially connected to the school, and truly appreciated.”
Howard says he is the one that is appreciative.
“It’s not been a job, it’s just been a heck of a lot of fun,” he said. The personal connection he made with so many students was just part of what he was supposed to do, he said.
“How can anybody have the nerve to assume that if someone is ignored for four years, they are going to want to give a gift (when they graduate),” Howard said. He felt students needed to feel like someone was looking out for them, so he did.
That personal touch is his hallmark, friends say. In his time at the University, he traveled the country cultivating close ties with alumni, inspiring them to remain a part of GW and even give back to the school.
“Ron fuels the alumni with his energy, his charismatic personality and his sense of commitment to the University,” Napper said. “But more than that, he’s just a really likable person.”
Howard’s work resulted in an extensive alumni network, ready to assist its alma mater by aiding current students in job hunts, conducting prospective student interviews and contributing to University endowments, said Marie Steeves, director of alumni benefits and services. Howard mobilized the GW alumni to become one of the school’s greatest resources, she said.
“He has friends everywhere,” Steeves said. “And he would be ready to assist any of them at the drop of a hat.”
Howard’s alumni friends are extremely loyal to him too, she said. Three years ago, alumni efforts raised $300,000 in his honor for a scholarship for needy students.
“Ron truly knows how to connect with students,” said Student Association President Carrie Potter. “At student events and basketball games, he was always the first person to give you a big hug and say `hi.'”
For Potter, a native of Omaha, Neb., Howard’s constant concern was a comfort far from home, she said. He made sure she had someone to spend the holidays with while in D.C. and a job connection back home.
“He has the biggest heart,” Potter said. “If you have anything to do with the University, Ron knows and cares for you.”
Friends agree that the University will not be the same without him.
“It is a loss for everyone at GW, especially all of his friends here,” Steeves said. “But his impact has already been made upon countless lives, and we are grateful for that.”
In addition to Howard, previous recipients of the GW President’s Medal include heads of state Shimon Peres of Israel and Mikhail Gorbachev.
“To be identified with those people is overwhelming,” Howard said. “I honestly cannot put it into words.”
The University Club could barely hold the hundreds of friends who wanted to wish him well Tuesday night.
“I was dumbfounded to see people I haven’t seen in months, in some cases years,” he said.
As he speaks of GW, the place he calls his “home,” his voice rings like a proud father.
“It’s got everything that any good, any excellent, university could want to have,” he said. “I can’t imagine another employer I could have worked for that would have given me all of the things GW has.”