Howard Greaves, 1941 – 2018

It is with great sadness that we learned that Howard Greaves died January 23, 2018. Howard had a talent for bringing people together, a generosity of spirit that brought so much to our community, and enthusiasm that enriched the book arts in Canada.

Howard worked for Penguin books Canada in their sales division, and he loved Penguin’s approach of producing low cost, high quality books. Jim Rainer recruited Howard to the Alcuin Society in 1997 after Howard had worked with Vancouver Public Library’s Friends of the Library, and Howard became the longest serving chair of the Alcuin Society. He stepped down from the role last year.
Howard’s ability to meet and engage with people is legendary. At one point he befriended the Head of the Friends of HMCS Vancouver. This resulted in several day sails aboard HMCS Vancouver much to his delight. Howard loved good food and traveled to all parts of Vancouver and beyond in search of it. His favourite paper was the UK based Guardian.
We are grateful to Howard for the time he spent working for the society, for his contribution to the book arts, and for being our friend. We will miss him.
Members are welcome to post their memories of Howard in the comments below. There is also an official notice on the
Here are some pictures of Howard and Peter Hay, courtesy of Dorthea Atwater:


  1. Peter Hay

    My friend Howard had many friends, he had a talent for friendship. Although I had met him back in the 1970s at some book expo when Howard was the Western rep for several eastern publishers and I was drama editor for Vancouver-based Talonbooks, we did not become friends until about 2009, soon after my wife Dorthea and I moved back to BC, following an absence of almost three decades in California.

    For the last half of that period I was a book dealer, too busy with my two shops in Pasadena to join or attend the Zamorano Club, where bibliophiles and printers gathered to enjoy bookish topics. But now I was retired in the Okanagan and occasionally heard about the Alcuin Society from Jim Rainer, who used to visit friends of his in Summerland, or from Nick Collins whom I met through my own Vancouver friends. I certainly knew of the Alcuin Society from the late Sixties and I may even have joined then, on the evidence of two or three early Amphoras in my collection and an edition of “A Theatrical Wager,” which reflected on my profession in the theatre at that time as well as on my growing bibliomania.

    So, encouraged by Jim and Nick, my wife and I came to one of the Alcuin events, and were welcomed by Chairman Howard. We started chatting and immediately found an amazing range of topics of mutual interests. Gradually we learned that topics that did not interest Howard were few and far between. In the years since, we exchanged hundreds, no, thousands of emails with attachments of articles from The Guardian or the BBC and a dozen other sources that we consumed in a day. Sometimes the emails seemed to become an avalanche, but actually, Howard carefully curated them according to what he distilled from conversations with his recipients. I got items about the book trade; he entertained Dorthea with the lore of birds. I was copied on book reviews he shared with Winsome, Dorthea was sent the latest broadcast by Melvyn Bragg. When the four of us met at some cozy restaurant, usually accessible by public transport, Howard would explain that we did not have to open all his emails if we happened to have different plans for our lives.

    Once we were talking about the pleasures of rail travel, and I told him about a website that guides you through every stop of every railway system on earth. “I have to thank you,” Howard emailed me a few days later, “ for introducing me to The Man In Seat 61 in whose company I spent yesterday afternoon at my local Starbucks (I wish it didn’t have to be that multinational) secure from the dull, cold, wet snow that was descending limply outside. For much of that time I was cosily aboard the Caledonian Sleeper which seemed, somehow, to join up with the Orient Express.” Ever since then he added my email address to the railroadiana he shared regularly with Robert Reid, while copying me very occasionally about any Formula 1 cars that were mainly meant for his son Magnus. (I had happened to mention once that my aged mother took up watching Formula 1 racing on television.)

    We (you) were never short of connections with Howard. It could be a Bloomsbury bookshop we both frequented in our youth, or one we sought out now in search of early Penguin editions. (I started my collection on Howard’s inspiration.) But the most binding, if somewhat surprising link, between Howard and me was the Hungarian Connection.

    I was born and spent my childhood in Budapest, a city full of coffee palaces, which formed, I am sure, at least a part of my character. My journalist grandfather had his own table at his favourite cafe, which he used as his office to write, meet people and conduct business. While sitting around with Howard at his Starbucks office on Granville Island, he often talked nostalgically about his good friend George Pandi, a Hungarian refugee who became a psychiatrist and food writer (the order should probably be reversed). Pandi was part of a circle of Hungarian emigres who gathered regularly at the Rosemary on Metcalfe Street in Montreal. From an article by George Pandi that Howard sent me, I gather that this small restaurant, long gone now,
    ‘was second home for young single immigrants of modest means and also a point of contact between us and the mainstream culture. Guests included not only students from McGill but also europhile professors and assorted intellectuals. Bill taught philosophy, Victor was an Old Testament scholar, (after work as an immigration officer), Maybin taught English, Howard was a bookseller. Together we spent long hours questioning, learning history, cultural anthropology and sociology from each other. The Canadians developed a taste for Hungarian cooking, and an appreciation for bilingual puns; the Hungarians learned New World mores and to read between English lines…’

    “The Rosemary was a block from my office,” Howard explained in an accompanying gloss, “and I had lunch of spinach puree with fried eggs followed by a double espresso almost each day. The post-prandial cigar, purchased before lunch along with the NYT at the Ritz Carlton, was never a problem. Simply, simply gorgeous…”

    Winsome and Howard moved from Montreal to Vancouver in 1970, when the Szasz Delicatessen still flourished on Granville at 14th and provided a bit of a substitute while it lasted. Much later came Granville Island and the Starbucks era, where Howard, now retired, triumphantly recreated a 21st century version of the old Rosemary. There he conversed with all and sundry, conducted Alcuin business, sent out all those emails, tapping out the occasional reminiscence about bookstores and lost coffee places.

    Adieu, my friend, and may flights of baristas sing thee to thy rest.

    Peter Hay became an ex-officio board member of the Alcuin Society because of Howard Greaves.

    • Nick Collins

      Lovely words PETER..sorry I seem, honestly unknowingly, to have plagiarized both you and the Bard..the latter is in good company. Best from us both at this sad time. Nick

  2. Lumi Constantin

    A humble scholar with an astute sense of humour. He will be missed.

  3. Nick Collins

    Oh dear Howard..what a lovely man, with a golden voice and a human warmth to charm us all. We are better through having known you and although we celebrate a life fully lived we grieve your passing so very deeply. A very rare gentleman and scholar combination; a life dedicated to books and now angels to sing you to your rest. Adios dear friend.

  4. Howard Greaves will be missed by his fellow bibliophiles. We are the people who love the smell of ink on paper, the craft, tradition, and skills that go into producing tactile items that become tangible records of human thought, deed, and desire. To also be imbued with a talent for connecting with people, like Howard had, is a joy to behold and a memory to be savored.

  5. Howard always made the effort (even when mobility was at it’s most challenging) to visit my father and I in our print shop on Granville Island. He would treat us with an interesting historical account, or a Guardian story, and would love to share and exchange books with my father. I only knew him a short 10 years, but he definitely left an impression and increased my addiction for everything paper. Rest in peace dear friend.

  6. Jan Kellett

    A great ambassador for Alcuin and a kind and welcoming chair for the members, as Peter says above, Howard had a talent for friendship. We shall miss him.

  7. Adrian Peetoom

    I first met Howard in 1972, shortly after Scholastic Canada transferred me to BC to be its ed. rep. in the West. I can’t recall our actual first meeting, but I have no doubt that from our first meeting we developed a bond, grounded in the love of books, of interesting ideas and of stimulating people. Publishing was less of a business then, and more of a hobby. That truth found an expression in the establishment of BCALMER (The BC Association of Learning Materials Educational Representatives), about 20 of us with Howard as enthusiastic co-founder. BCALMER held meetings (food an essential), published a newsletter (no shortage of writers), organized displays, and even conferences in the north and interior of BC. I remember the joy of dining with Howard at some restaurant after hours. Specifically a meal in BC’s interior on our way home from Cranbrook, with only three items on the Russian food menu: small, medium and large. Small turned out too much food for me, but Howard managed the large while conversing about cabbages and kings.
    One more dinner item. He and I and two more ed. reps. had dinner in a hotel in Red Deer where we all had attended a teachers’ conference. The four of us had more than 75 years of publishing experience. We ordered food and a bottle of wine. The young waitress came with the bottle of red wine, already uncorked and stuck in a bucket of ice! Howard, in the gentle way he would take issue with any wrong view coming his way, acquainted the waitress with the ways of wine without embarrassing her..
    Howard, you have added spice and sunshine to the lives of many people, and count my wife Johanna and me in are grateful recipients. We have been blessed by jolly and stimulating presence in our lives.

  8. Michael Wemms

    I met Howard in 1957 on the first day at my new school and we have remained close friends for the sixty odd years that have passed.

    I joined our school later than Howard and by then he had already made his mark – popular, influential and well known for his charm. Almost immediately we discovered a mutual interest in books, reading them avidly, but also as things of beauty to be possessed and loved.

    He became Head Boy and then went off to Oxford University, but although our places of learning were miles apart, we still met regularly. On graduation I joined a retail company and began to collect books in earnest. He joined Penguin Books, then still headquartered in Harmondsworth (near London Heathrow) and later the great Dillons Bookshop near Tottenham Court Rd in London and we continued to admire each other’s modest, but growing libraries.

    I remember his decision to take a job in Canada very well; he was persuaded to join Classic Bookshops in Montreal. At the time I am quite sure he didn’t think it would be Canada forever, so much so that I was entrusted with his entire library to house until he returned and I have guarded it ever since. At first expecting to give it up at any moment, but then of course he met Winsome and the rest is history. Nobody will be surprised to learn that the books are all about printing, typography, publishing, film and art. I still dutifully dust them once a month and they grace the space between 19th and early 20th century novels and History.

    Looking back on all these years it’s amazing that we never lost contact. There were occasional visits to see each other (but it’s many miles from the South coast of England to Vancouver) and for years we wrote regularly. I well remember those blue airmail sheets that fold into an envelope, many of which I still have. Then we found email and a letter every three or four weeks became emails almost daily, we even shared pictures of our book shelves and he has a copy of my catalogue.

    Howard was a good man, without guile and he stuck doggedly to his belief in doing the right thing. He was a wonderful, steadfast friend and there are still many of us in England who will miss him.

  9. Peter Hay

    This was sent to me by Charles van Sandwyk. Howard considered the Folio Society edition of The Wind in the Willows, lavishly illustrated by Charles, as one of his most treasured books.)

    “Howard was one of life’s gentlemen. He was very kind to me and had a pleasant, lighthearted sophistication of manner which you seldom find nowadays in the generations coming up. Whenever I participated in the Wayzgoose, he would always make a point of coming over and having a chat at my table, and this past November, I was deeply worried at his slim appearance, and he told me he was having treatment for cancer. He was, however, very upbeat and certainly didn’t act as though he was a mere few months away from death. He also has never acted his 77 (?) years. I always thought perhaps he was recently retired, say 65 or so. It is a very sad time….”

  10. Ralph Stanton

    Howard was a special person whose endless enthusiasm for books and reading made conversations with him a great pleasure. He worked hard to develop the Alcuin Society where his unending cheerfulness won him many friends. Sincere condolences to his family.
    Howard, we will miss you but your many contributions and your wonderful spirit will not be forgotten.

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