Having Shaped Constitutions and Minds Since 1964, A.E. Dick Howard To Retire

April 24, 2024 By Melissa Castro Wyatt, mwyatt@law.virginia.edu Melissa Castro Wyatt, mwyatt@law.virginia.edu

For a man who has had a hand in writing more constitutions than all the Founding Fathers put together, it’s a bit ironic that Arthur Ellsworth Dick Howard gleans such joy from a morning routine he has performed countless times since moving to Charlottesville to teach at the University of Virginia School of Law in 1964.

Howard wakes at 5:30 a.m., retrieves the daily newspaper from the impeccably landscaped driveway near his carriage house and sits down to a bowl of Scottish pinhead oats and half a grapefruit.

As he turned the pages of those newspapers over the years, he would have seen snapshots and clippings of moments from his own remarkable career of more than 60 years.

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He would recognize the Rev. Leslie Griffin and his daughter, who convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to order all Virginia public schools to reopen and desegregate 10 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

He’d spot Clarence Gideon winning the right to counsel for indigent defendants; Virginia voting Jim Crow and sex discrimination out of its constitution; protests in Central and Eastern European town squares; the fall of the Berlin Wall; nascent European democracies; and so much more.

Howard has traveled and served the world at large, helping to write dozens of democratic constitutions – including a 1971 rewrite of Virginia’s own constitution – without moving out of his native Virginia or leaving the Law School he calls home.

Howard (far right, standing) served as executive director of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision with (seated, from left) Alexander M. Harman Jr., Colgate W. Darden, Albertis S. Harrison, Davis Y. Paschall, Ted Dalton, Oliver W. Hill; and (standing, from left) J. Sloan Kuykendall, Albert V. Bryan Jr., Lewis F. Powell Jr., Hardy C. Dillard and George M. Cochran.
In 1968, Howard (far right, standing) served as executive director of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision with (seated, from left) Alexander M. Harman Jr., Colgate W. Darden, Albertis S. Harrison, Davis Y. Paschall, Ted Dalton, Oliver W. Hill; and (standing, from left) J. Sloan Kuykendall, Albert V. Bryan Jr., Lewis F. Powell Jr., Hardy C. Dillard and George M. Cochran. (Photos by UVA Law Archives)

“Many of the most amazing things that have happened to me were not part of my original game plan,” Howard said in his Tidewater accent, sipping tea in a Queen Anne armchair as he reflected. “But from the first day I stepped into the classroom, I knew I was where I ought to be. It hasn’t changed in 60 years.”

His constitutional ideals, his home and his aesthetics reflect the Age of Enlightenment. He trusts in the “fundamental values” and “extraordinary insights” of the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution and believes they intended to leave room for future generations to change and perfect the document’s defects.

Howard, pictured in 2017, worked with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe. They're in a room together smiling as they talk to the rest of the room

Howard, pictured in 2017, worked with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the restoration of voting rights to former felons in 2016.

“It’s a basic model with some obvious flaws – it was drafted by propertied white men, many of whom were slaveowners. Women and Blacks were not at the table,” Howard said. “But they worked under the Enlightenment idea that there are enduring truths.”

When he formally retires from teaching at the end of the semester, he will be the longest-serving professor in UVA history, with 60 years in the classroom. He can look back with confidence that he has inspired generations of lawyers and judges who have gone out into the world and – on national and international stages alike – nurtured those democratic ideals.

Read on to learn more about Howard’s incredible career and the multiple impacts of his life’s work.

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