The Rev. Howard M. Haywood, Newton leader and affordable housing advocate, dies at 78
For many years, the Rev. Howard M. Haywood would step to the pulpit each Sunday at Myrtle Baptist Church in West Newton and address the congregation: “Good morning, church. It’s good to be in the house of the Lord.”
His many admirers would say he brought the moral authority of the sanctuary with him wherever he went in the worlds of business and community activism. A tireless advocate for affordable housing in Newton and a driving force for the creation of the Myrtle Village development, he was honored by community leaders in December.
“I’m going to do what I came here to do and make it possible for people like me to come here and stay here. Newton is a marvelous place,” he said during that ceremony in Temple Shalom, Wicked Local reported.
“I love it,” he added, “and want to make it an even better place.”
The Rev. Haywood, whose careers outside of his church ranged from union bricklayer to MBTA executive to consultant, was 78 when he died Feb. 16.
He had been involved with organizations throughout Newton, including the Council on Aging; the Foundation for Racial, Religious, and Ethnic Harmony; the Newton Community Development Foundation; and the Newton Interfaith Clergy Association.
“Everything that comes down the pike that’s of interest and of benefit to the community, he’s there — he’s right there,” his wife, Katy, said in 2018 during a Newton Talks Oral History Project interview that is posted on YouTube.
In 2005, the Rev. Haywood was honored with the 21st annual Newton Human Rights Award, and over the years, he often was called upon to serve on panels that guided the city through difficult times.
“The mayor calls me; I don’t call him,” he told the Globe in 2004, after he was asked to represent the black community on a panel responding to racist graffiti found at an elementary school.
“We’re not going to make a big display or go picketing or anything like that,” he added. “But we do want to make sure the city responds properly on issues of race.”
As a lifelong resident, he had watched Newton grow over the decades, and he helped shape those changes. The Rev. Haywood also had a better sense of the community’s history: His ancestors had arrived in Newton more than 140 years ago.
“My family is here eight generations,” he said in the 2018 oral history interview.
He eventually became pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church, his spiritual home since childhood. And he used his ministry to promote a sense of community solidarity, including launching a celebration in the late 1980s to commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Haywood wanted the gathering to move to a different faith’s house of worship every year as a way of reminding the community that honoring King means welcoming everyone.
“With a service like this, people somehow forget our differences and understand our oneness,” he told the Globe in 1989. “I think Dr. King’s life and ministry demonstrated that all the time.”
At the December ceremony in Temple Shalom, Allison Berry, the co-senior rabbi, praised his lifetime of work, Wicked Local noted in its report.
“You have been a voice for justice for all of us and we thank you,” she said. “It’s our honor to be in a relationship with Myrtle Baptist and work together to create a more just Newton.”
Howard Marshal Haywood Sr. grew up in Newton, a son of Alfred E. Haywood Sr., a janitor who died when Howard was 2, and Julia Dorsey, who worked as a domestic.
In the oral history interview, he said he considered the adults he met on the streets of his childhood to be his heroes — people who set strong examples for all to follow.
It was in West Newton that he met Karen Evans, known as Katy, whom he would later marry. Her family had also lived in West Newton for generations.
“That’s where we both were raised and courted,” she said in the oral history interview.
They had known each other since childhood. “We had everything together — we did school together. We’re one year apart in school,” her husband said in the interview, adding: “We met in church — probably Sunday school.”
The Rev. Haywood graduated from Newton High School in 1958 and they married in 1962.
After high school, he began working in the construction field for Tom Whiting, who would serve as a teacher and mentor as they became best friends.
Though the Rev. Haywood’s achievements were many, his family said in a tribute that he counted becoming a journeyman bricklayer and getting his Gold Card as a 50-year member of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Union Local #3 of Boston as “his most satisfying accomplishment.” He had been among the few black members when he joined in the early 1960s.
While working in construction, he attended Wentworth Institute, from which he received certificates for plan reading and estimating.
He later received a certificate in biblical studies from a church training center, and in 1985 he became pastor of Myrtle Baptist, which he served for more than two decades.
In the late 1970s, the Rev. Haywood began working for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and rose to become assistant general manager of design and construction.
“When you see him preaching, it’s a whole other Howard,” Robert H. Prince Jr., who was then general manager of the MBTA, told the Globe in 1998. “The spirit just moves him. I’ve told him we should take that pulpit and bring it into the boardroom.”
Indeed, at times the many duties of running a 750-person MBTA department and leading a church could seem like almost too much to take on.
“Sometimes I look at what I do and say, ‘How can I do all that?’ ” he told the Globe in 1998. “But then I say, ‘Whatever I have to do, God will give me enough time.’ ”
He went on to work at engineering and consulting firms, including for Aecom and Kleinfelder, before retiring.
“Work makes me humble,” he said in the 1998 Globe interview, though he noted that his duties at Myrtle Baptist were in another realm from the MBTA.
“This here,” he told the Globe in that interview as he let his gaze survey his church office, “I don’t consider this work.”
A service was held for the Rev. Haywood, who in addition to his wife leaves their daughter, Kristen Smith of Newton; their son, Howard Jr. of Newton; a brother, Walter, of Sunrise, Fla.; three granddaughters; and a great-grandson.
At the homegoing celebration held in the church he had once led, family members and friends filed every pew.
“He said he was proud to be a citizen of Newton,” the Rev. Haywood’s son said, according to a Wicked Local account of the service.
In the oral history interview, the Rev. Haywood said Newton “has a richness of humanness that we sometimes don’t value enough. So that when people care about each other, it makes a difference. It makes your life more vibrant.”
He added: “I love this place. I really do.”