The massive outpouring of love and affection in the wake of the death of Audrey Virginia Howard simply reflects the life she lived.
Whether known as "Audrey," "Aud," "Junior" (her mom also is named Audrey Virginia), "Ginger" or "Aunt Ging," the 47-year-old Daily Herald assistant city editor cared deeply about a wide circle of family, friends and coworkers. She died Sunday morning in the Elgin home she shared with longtime wife Elisa Groh, surrounded by loved ones recounting the stories of her life.
"She draws people in. I think I'd have to say my sister has the biggest heart in the world," said Joan Wiegold. "She's such a caring person and a warm person. We share her with other sets of family. She still has friends from high school and from every job she ever had. Once you are part of her life, that's it."
As an editor, she called her staff of reporters "my kids." Dubbing themselves "Howard's Heroes," coworkers raised funds and rallied behind her fight against cancer.
Howard's cubicle in the newsroom still is blanketed with art projects from her nieces and nephews, and photos of her cats, family and a smiling photo of Groh and her on vacation in Michigan, where they bought land and talked of retiring some day.
She had an extraordinary collection of old toys -- from her teddy bear missing an eye to an assortment of View-Masters -- and made everything fun for her nieces and nephews. Using butter, cheese and charm, she even persuaded finicky kids that broccoli "a la Aunt Ging" was a treat.
"She oozes care and concern for everyone who comes into her life," said Daily Herald Managing Editor Madeleine Doubek, a longtime friend and softball teammate of Howard. "She's not afraid to tell people how much she loves them and cares about them, over and over again."
She phoned her mom every day, often several times, Doubek said.
Growing up in a close family in Wauconda, Howard became an avid reader who seemed to always have a book in her hand. But she still looked out for siblings Pat, John, Paul and Joan.
Once, when a bully on the bus ignored warnings to stop pestering her brother, she put down her book, punched the bully as a reminder that "I told you to leave him alone," then sat back down and picked up her book.
When her oldest sister, Pat Scharm, died of breast cancer on Valentine's Day in 2004, Howard, as she was throughout the struggle, was there with the rest the family.
Howard and Groh would have celebrated 22 years together Thursday. They were married in Canada, where same-sex unions are legal.
A "no-nonsense perfectionist in terms of editing" stories, Howard couldn't read a restaurant menu or business sign without pointing out any mistakes in grammar.
Yet, at work she was down-to-earth with people, remembers Neil Holdway, the copy desk chief who spent several years as Howard's boss. "She always knew just the right thing to say, and you knew she was genuine, a real person," he said.
A 1978 graduate of Wauconda High School, Howard graduated from the University of Illinois in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She worked as a reporter and copy editor for Lerner Newspapers before joining the Daily Herald in 1993.
Roaming the outfield for her softball team, Howard played hard, had fun and enjoyed hanging with friends. Unable to drink alcohol or enjoy food during her grueling cancer treatment, Howard recently talked about moving on to an afterlife with food, drink and memories of everything she loves.
"She said saying goodbye is good," said Doubek, who was among the many who visited Howard shortly before her death. "She tells everybody she loves them."
Visitation will be from 3 p.m. Thursday until 7 p.m., when a memorial service will be held at the Kisselburg-Wauconda Funeral Home, 235 N. Main St., Wauconda.
More information on her life is in her obituary.