The phone call that Howard McCurdy, the federal New Democratic Party’s (NDP) first Black Member of Parliament, received on December 8, two days before his 80th birthday, was overdue and one of the most satisfying gifts in his life.
Among 91 new appointments to the Order of Canada announced earlier this week, he’s finally relieved to be able to share the good news with family and friends.
“When I got the call just under a month ago, I just told my wife and my closest friend because I knew they were the only two people I could depend on to keep their mouths shut,” said McCurdy, who was the founder and first president of the Canadian College of Microbiologists. “This is definitely one of the best birthday presents I have been given.”
This is the second major honour in the past 12 months for McCurdy who was bestowed with the Order of Ontario last January.
“It was quite fulfilling to be conferred with that honour, but the Order of Canada is the best of them all because it’s national and it’s recognition for the work I have done over the years on many levels,” he said.
McCurdy’s contributions are long, compelling and illustrious.
A Biology professor for 25 years at the University of Windsor where he was the first tenured Black faculty member in Canada, McCurdy was elected to Windsor City Council in 1979. He served two terms before being elected the Member of Parliament for Windsor-Walkerville in 1984. He was re-elected four years later as the federal representative for Windsor-St. Clair.
While he was unsuccessful in his bid for the federal NDP leadership, McCurdy – who has published 45 scientific articles – is credited with raising the political consciousness of Blacks across Canada.
City of Toronto’s newest poet laureate, Dr. George Elliott Clarke, said McCurdy is deserving of every honour that comes his way.
“I am very happy for Howard,” said Clarke, who campaigned for McCurdy and was his parliamentary assistant in Ottawa for four years up until 1991. “I am so pleased he was nominated.”
The second Black federal member of Canada’s parliament after the late Lincoln Alexander, McCurdy was one of the few politicians that the Dalai Lama met with privately during a visit to Canada in the early 1990s and he also travelled to South Africa to meet with Nelson Mandela during the transition from apartheid to democracy.
Though elected to public office for the first time 34 years ago, McCurdy has been politically active for most of his life.
Denied access to bowl or play pool and golf at public courses because of his skin colour, he led a campaign as a teenager back in the 1940s for an anti-discrimination by-law in his then Amherstburg hometown. Later, while at Michigan State University, he served as president of that institution’s National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People’s (NAACP) chapter and helped establish the National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC).
From 2003 to 2005, the long-time human rights activist, teacher and politician was president of the Windsor & District Black Coalition, which was known as the Guardian Club when he co-founded it in the 1960s.
The father of four hopes to complete his much-anticipated autobiography this year.
By RON FANFAIR