Mary Watson Howarth, 94, formerly of Springfield, died Saturday, May 30 in Nashville, Tennessee. The wife of former Mayor Nelson Howarth, she served as first lady of Springfield for twelve years (1955-59, 1963-71), when the city made great advances in race relations, urban renewal, and modern planning. In addition to being a full-time mother, Mrs. Howarth was an officer of several community organizations in Springfield, a skilled social hostess, and a tireless political campaigner.
Born Mary Watson Prindiville on September 8, 1914, she was descended from Irish families who emigrated to Chicago in the 1840s and remained a proud fourth-generation Chicagoan to the end of her life. She graduated from Wheaton High School and attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, and business school in Chicago. After working in law and insurance offices, she married Nelson Howarth on March 2, 1935, in Chicago.
The Howarths moved permanently to Springfield in 1941, where Mrs. Howarth raised a family of five children, including three under the age of seven, during the years her husband served as a naval officer in the Pacific in World War II. After the war, two more children were born in Springfield, and beginning in 1950, Mrs. Howarth assisted her husband over the course of a 25-year political career and six mayoral campaigns.
When the Howarths retired from politics in 1975, Mrs. Howarth went back to work as a legal secretary in her husband’s law office until his retirement in 1989. Throughout their fifty-six year marriage, and in the 18 years since his death, she remained her family's foundation and inspiration.
In 2002 she moved to Nashville, where her vibrant spirit, sharp wit, practical wisdom, and personal strength drew to her many new friends. The Howarth family wishes to acknowledge the extraordinary caretakers and staff of The Health Center at Richland Place for their loving care of Mrs. Howarth in her final years and Alive Hospice for their kind assistance at her death.
She was preceded in death by her parents, William Aloysius Prindiville and Gertrude Mary Shepherd, and by two sisters, Ruth Prindiville Ahern and Susan Prindiville Bichl. She is survived by her five children, Susan Howarth Eastman of Alton; William Louis Howarth of Princeton, NJ; David Nelson Howarth of Cortez, CO; Lydia Howarth of Nashville, TN; and Jo Howarth Noonan of Atlanta, GA; also by thirteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in Nashville in mid-June. Burial and a family service will be in August at Homewood Memorial Gardens, Homewood, IL. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Mary and Nelson Howarth Scholarship at the University of Illinois in Springfield.