Less than two months after the death of Dr. George Irish, the Montserrat community is mourning the passing of another stalwart who was the virtual female equivalent of Irish in community activism, social engineering and historical impact.
Hon. Margaret “Annie Dyer” Howe, the second female government minister in Montserrat history, passed away Saturday following a long illness. She was 77 years old.
Mrs. Howe, who hails from St. Patrick’s in the south of Montserrat, delved in just about every sector in Montserrat, including politics, education, culture, business and religion. She advocated for children and the elderly alike and ascended during an era in which women were still expected to know their place in society. In the process, she paved the way for other women to infiltrate theretofore male-dominated fields.
“Anything I put my mind to, I can do,” she once said during an interview with Under The Tamarind Tree, a program on Radio Montserrat. “I don’t have any difficulty to survive.”
Staunchly Roman Catholic, Mrs. Howe embraced a principled approach and used her government platform to enact social change, such as revamping the education paradigm to ensure students lower on the socio-economic ladder had a fair shot at qualifying for the Montserrat Secondary School.
Mrs. Howe, who was profiled in the book Gallery Montserrat by Sir Howard Fergus, was born Margaret Corbett on November 18, 1941. She was heavily influenced by her grandmother, who was a district midwife. She attended the St. Augustine School, which was then on George Street in Plymouth, and later taught at the school before migrating to the United States for secretarial training.
“The nuns had a great hand in inspiring me,” she told Under The Tamarind Tree. “They not only taught you educationally, they taught you self-sufficiency.”
In 1962, she was a contestant in the first Montserrat Festival queen show. She did not place, as Edna Tuitt (Baptiste) won the title.
In 1964, she married Michael Dyer, a prominent businessman and politician. That union was the impetus for her foray into politics. Michael Dyer represented the Southern district in the late 1950s and 1960s before, ironically, losing to Mary Tuitt, who became the first female government minister in Montserrat.
Michael Dyer passed away in 1974 but his political influence remained with his widow. And even though Annie would marry Robert Howe in 1984, the name “Annie Dyer” had already been stamped in the local lexicon.
Mrs. Howe was first elected in 1979 via by-election to replace the late Joe Taylor, in essence reclaiming the seat lost by her husband years earlier. In 1983, she was part of the victorious PLM delegation led by John Osborne. She was assigned the Ministry of Education, Health, Community Services, Women’s Affairs, Culture and Sports. The parallels between Annie and Dr. George Irish were again notable because Irish was soundly defeated in that year’s election, ending his brief political career.
Mrs. Howe is also remembered for her time at the Montserrat Water Authority, where she served as executive secretary, administrative officer, and later manager.
In 2018 she was presented with the Order of Excellence during the Montserrat National Awards for her exemplary contributions to the country.
Mrs. Howe, who didn’t have any children, is survived by her husband Robert, brother Dick Martin and step-daughter Joycelyn Howe, among others.