Howard Douglas McCurdy Jr., a storied civil rights activist for Windsor and Canada, has died at the age of 85.
According to family members, the former Member of Parliament for Windsor-Walkerville and Windsor-Lake St. Clair passed away on Tuesday night.
Reached Wednesday, McCurdy’s daughter Leslie said her father died peacefully in the arms of his wife, Brenda Lee.
“My father was a scientist, one of the leaders of Canada’s civil rights movement, and had a political career,” Leslie McCurdy said.
“He was a brilliant man. He could be demanding — but he didn’t demand half as much from anyone else than he demanded from himself. He could be very intense. Very committed.”
“Before Christmas, he celebrated his birthday, and he was feeling accomplished — because he was the longest-lived McCurdy male, ever.”
One of McCurdy’s many grandchildren, Courtlin Ducre, described his grandfather as “one of the most exceptional, inspirational, and important people in my life.”
“A true example of Black excellence who always proved that a life of hard work could lead to the highest echelon of success,” Ducre wrote.
McCurdy’s lifetime of accolades included the Canadian Centennial Medal, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, the Order of Ontario, and the Order of Canada.
He was elected to represent Windsor ridings for the New Democrat Party from 1984 to 1993 — the party’s first African-Canadian MP.
Prior to his time in federal politics, McCurdy built a legacy in academia and activism.
He was born in London in 1932, and arrived in the Amherstburg area at the age of nine. According to McCurdy, the overt racism he experienced in his formative years would motivate him for the rest of his life.
“Things have changed quite dramatically since that time,” McCurdy told the Star in 2012. “This is not to say that racism and inter-group relations are perfect. But they sure are a lot better than they used to be.”
McCurdy went on to study at the University of Western Ontario, Assumption University, and Michigan State University, earning a doctorate degree in microbiology and chemistry.
He joined the University of Windsor’s science department in 1959, eventually becoming the country’s first African-Canadian tenured university faculty member. He rose to head the department from 1974 to 1979.
His academic career included more than 50 scientific papers and positions with several scientific associations and editorial boards.
In 1962, McCurdy co-founded the Guardian Club — a civil rights organization dedicated to fighting racial discrimination in Windsor. He was also a founding member and the first president of the National Black Coalition of Canada, which formed in 1969.
In 1979, McCurdy successfully ran for Windsor city council, where he served two terms as an alderman.
After retiring from politics in the late 1990s, McCurdy dedicated his time to his wife, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Leslie said the public would be surprised by how devoted McCurdy was to his family, despite his busy professional life. One of Leslie’s fond youthful memories is when her father showed up at a track and field event in Sudbury to watch her and her sister Linda compete. He was on crutches at the time, but wanted to see their high jump attempts.
“I don’t think there was a competition that he missed. Track meets, gymnastics — He made it to all of our stuff. He coached us,” Leslie recalled.
But activism was always in McCurdy’s blood. For him, it was simply carrying on a tradition: He could trace his ancestors to the Underground Railroad.
“My family has had a history of more than 150 years of involvement in the human rights movement,” McCurdy told the Star before receiving the Order of Ontario.
Arrangements for McCurdy were still in the process of being made at press time. Leslie said her stepmother has been trying to find an appropriate venue for a memorial event.
“It’s quite possible a lot of people will come. A lot of people knew my dad, and honoured my dad in various ways.”