This summer, Peggy Howard made the toughest decision of her career: to retire from her position with the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) on October 1 “…now, before I start slowing down,” she joked.
“It was a tough decision because I love the programs that I have helped birth and the ones that I have inherited,” she said. “I thrive on finding a spark of an idea, pitching it to others, and watching their enthusiasm help build it into a logo, a campaign, a program. I like to think I bring out the best in others, and I enjoy being the catalyst for getting them to take paths that are less traveled. I know that I’ll miss MEC, the business leaders, the teachers and the students.”
A native of Durant, Howard earned a bachelor of science degree from Mississippi University for Women (MUW) in the spring of 1964, and had visions of enjoying a leisurely summer, the first one not spent working since she was 15.
“It was to be the graduation present I was giving myself,” she recalled.
M.B. Swayze, MEC’s first general manager and president, offered her the position of his executive assistant to begin in July, and “accompanying (his) job offer was a tight time frame, which took that summer vacation right off my calendar,” she said.
Howard has served in every aspect of MEC activity during her tenure that spans nearly four decades. In 1982, then-president Bob Pittman named her COO of the Swayze Foundation. In 1999, MEC president Blake Wilson promoted her to MEC senior vice president. Two years later, Wilson named her COO of MEC and Public Education Forum of Mississippi.
“Her nearly 40 years of service to this organization have contributed in a major way to our success in promoting an agenda supporting educational initiatives, most notably the STAR Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program, which has become the most prestigious award of its kind in Mississippi,” said Wilson. “She has also helped reshape and focus the Leadership Mississippi program to re-engage volunteers and graduates from previous years through The Path Forward program, and has been a spark plug of ideas for taking many MEC programs to new levels of achievement.”
Howard recalled her greatest professional accomplishment: seeing a bright idea for a character-building curriculum attract a team of talented Mississippi educators who shared her personal passion for encouraging young students to do the right thing for the right reason.
“Imagine U – the Quest for Character, developed about 10 years ago, was one of the first curricula to receive the Mississippi Board of Education’s stamp of approval and has been used in classrooms all across the state,” said Howard. “It was funded by Mississippi businesses and was developed by Mississippi teachers for Mississippi teachers and their students.”
A Leadership Mississippi honorary member, Howard was appointed to the Mississippi Commission on Accreditation, Gov. Barbour’s Improving School Choice Options team and First Lady Marsha Barbour’s Excel by Five management board, an early childhood initiative program.
Howard also serves as an advisory board member for the Center for Creative Learning, a member of the Mississippi Team’s Improving School Choices and an MUW representative on the Institutions of Higher Learning Inter-Alumni Council. She is past president of the Jackson chapter of Executive Women International and a former Sunday school teacher and current member of First Baptist Church in Jackson.
“Peggy is passionate about her work,” said Wilson. “She is committed to the principles of MEC. And she is ever-loyal to the organization and the volunteers who make MEC strong.”
Twice, Howard took leaves of absence for two years each to tend to her family.
“In my heart, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom but that simply wasn’t in the cards,” she said. “I accepted work challenges and then agonized over the time I was missing with my son Todd. Finally, when he was in high school, I bravely presented a new working arrangement to MEC’s president, Bob Pittman. This was before flextime became so popular. My idea was to combine a decreased weekly work schedule with Saturday hours so that I didn’t miss Todd’s special school activities and sporting events. MEC never suffered because I gave a time-and-a-half effort on Saturdays.”
Her mother, Eloise Ellington, nearly 90 years old, has inspired Howard with her pioneering spirit. “I laughingly tell her, and her doctors, too, that she could have been in the lead wagon going west,” said Howard. “I am awed by her mental sharpness.”
Howard is dearly close to her son, Todd, an oral surgeon in private practice in Saginaw, Mich., and her grandsons, Bailey and Brandyn, and granddaughter, Elli.
Spare time is a precious commodity, said Howard.
“A real treat is some quiet time with friends and family who have patiently waited on the sidelines while I have climbed the career ladder. Sometimes, I’m amazed that they remember who I am and still want to spend time with me!”
A fun-loving free spirit at heart —“all those checklists, outlines and calendars are necessary evils because my daily schedule requires lots of multi-tasking,” she joked — Howard would love to get a patent on one of her good ideas.
“I’ve had the ideas, but not the technology for two different products that hit the market about 10 years after I had the idea,” she said. “Just once, I want to come up with the whole package, not because of the money but because of the creativity.”
And she’d love to participate in a Christian mission team to a foreign country, “before my energy level fizzles,” she said, with a laugh.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.