Carole Howells, who died in June aged 73, was a champion of the voluntary sector in Newcastle upon Tyne for more than two decades. Her influence extended far and wide.
As Director of Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service (NCVS) from 1987 to 2009, Carole stridently argued the case for the charitable sector and was passionate about Newcastle, which became her adopted city. She knew that it was important to build a professional relationship with the City Council but she could also be fiercely critical about ideas of which she disapproved. On one occasion, Carole refused to have anything to do a government funding initiative because she considered it was so ill conceived.
Carole was a brilliant manager, strategist and organiser. She ran an impeccable organisation that was widely respected. Carole prided herself on developing her staff and giving them responsibility. A number of her proteges have gone to run their own organisations with distinction including Shona Alexander at Newcastle CAB or Paul Marriot at St Cuthberts Hospice.
Under the auspices of NCVS she nurtured a number of initiatives, including what is now Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. Carole had the original idea to start the community foundation which at the time was seen as a radical and risky venture. She was deputy chair of the foundation for its first nine years and, although she did not agree with all its eventual directions, was extremely proud of what it achieved.
Carole was the first choice to represent the voluntary sector on public bodies including the boards of Newcastle College, Northumbria Probation Committee, Tyneside TEC and the regional advisory group of what is now The Big Lottery. She was punctilious and usually arrived fifteen minutes before the start of the meeting. One chief executive described Carole as ‘the grit in the oyster’ – because she would always ask the awkward question.
Carole acted as eminence grise to a number of leading voluntary and public sector figures. One said he invariably asks himself what Carole would do when he is in a tight spot. Carole would never have called herself a mentor as her forthright advice was usually given over lunch, afternoon tea or an early supper amidst much good humour but her influence on a whole range of people, including myself, was perhaps her greatest legacy.
Born in Watford in 1942, Carole went to Bushy Grammar School and then studied philosophy and psychology at Bristol University. She was forward thinking and fashion conscious. Carole later gained an MA in Education from the University of the West Indies and an MBA from Durham Business School.
One of her closest friends at Bristol was the feminist writer Angela Carter who, according to a forthcoming biography, described her relationship with Carole as one of the most central in her life. Carole was an assiduous correspondent with all her friends and recently gave her letters from Angela Carter to the British Library.
Carole’s love of the North generally, and the Yorkshire Dales in particular, came about fortuitously when her first employer, the Civil Service Recruitment Board ( 1967 -9 ) relocated from central London to Basingstoke. She could not face commuting and decided to look for pastures new.
A colleague took her to visit Bradford and then on a tour of the Dales. Carole was instantly captivated both by the urban life of northern cities and by the rugged and dramatic landscape. This visit was quickly followed by Carole accepting a post as a research psychologist at Leeds University ( 1969 -74). Although she later switched careers, Carole never lost her enthusiasm for research and evaluation and continued to take on projects throughout her time in Newcastle.
Carole moved to Bradford where she lived life to the full and later purchased a cottage at Langcliffe near Malham with two friends. Her love of visiting her cottage and being able to visit friends in Yorkshire was a constant source of joy for the rest of her life.
After narrowly missing out on a job in the Far East, Carole moved to Jamaica to work at the University of West Indies (1974-78) where she met Jill Knight who became a life long friend and holiday companion. She was, according to Jill, a refuge in times of trouble.
When Carole returned from the Caribbean, she worked for the crime reduction charity Nacro in Manchester (1978 -87), before settling in Newcastle to run NCVS. She was awarded an MBE for her services to the voluntary sector in 2001.
Carole had a great love of art and, in her retirement, took up painting again herself . She was seen more often at Theatre Royal, where dance was a particular delight, and at Tyneside Cinema, where she sponsored a seat which she called ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. This was an affectionate catchphrase about colleagues who did not meet Carole’s exacting standards.
She was diagnosed with cancer in early 2103 but, with treatment, managed a reasonably full life until Easter this year, when her health quickly deteriorated. She continued to chair The Derwent Initiative and Involve North East, until shortly before she died.
Carole had a great gift for making and maintaining friendships and it was utterly in keeping that she spent her last day at home in the company of one of her oldest friends who had flown in from America especially to be with her.
Carole was briefly married and had a number of other boy friends. She is survived by her younger sister, Penny, and by her nieces Lucy and Charlotte who describe Carole as a loving, inspiring and formidable influence on their lives.
There is a memorial event to celebrate Carole’s life and work at The Mansion House on Saturday 3rd October. For details go to cvsnewcastle.org.uk/latest-news