A Tribute to Danny Howard
Written by David Vonesch
Your life is defined by how you carry on.
Danny (right) and Rory take a moment to celebrate one of several projects completed for the Wellington Catholic District School Board in Guelph, Ontario, 2012
Danny Howard worked for SkyFire from 2010 to 2012 and led our expansion into the Ontario market. (We have since turned our focus to Western Canada) Danny’s passion for solar has deep roots! His research started early with his award-winning science fair project analyzing the effect of temperature on solar production.
Fate would have it that Danny and I wound up as neighbors in residence while attending engineering at the University of Alberta in Edmonton back in 2002. Late nights completing assignments followed by even later nights ‘de-stressing’ made us fast friends. A shared love of outdoor adventures and live music cemented our friendship. It was only when Danny became Engineers Without Borders’ UofA Chapter President and enlisted me to run their Make Poverty History campaign did I begin to see how Danny’s values would guide his professional volunteer and working life.
Unique in his selflessness and in his understanding of what is most important in life, Danny’s values were foundational to his work with Engineers Without Borders in Malawi where he managed a cassava processing factory – helping to grow the operation to 47 staff and the production of 300kg of starch per day. This further supported the local cassava farmers by providing them a market for their native crops – Danny had a real and sustained impact in his work overseas. Danny has always worked towards a better world and in many ways pushed others to do the same.
Danny joined SkyFire in 2010 and as our first employee in Ontario was involved in all ends of the business – sales, marketing, project management, and installation. Danny left his mark on this business in a big way. Starting first with our logo. Some of you may recall our first logo:
Danny knew we could do better and convinced Dave Kelly, Tim, and I to run a new logo creation contest through the crowdsourced design company 99designs.ca. What a fun process! Over 300 design options later, rounds of consultations and online surveys with our friends and clients, we landed with the logo we still have today:
A unique brand statement that symbolizes the sun, solar power, and community. Danny didn’t stop there though and pushed us towards an updated website, brochures, trade show booths, you name it. He changed the face of this company. Who knew that a bunch of engineers would need help with marketing? And who knew that we would find the help we needed from another engineer?
Unfortunately, within only a few months of starting with SkyFire, Danny’s brain tumor became increasingly active and his doctor recommended surgery which he underwent in late 2010. Danny was only off work for maybe 2-3 weeks, insisting on jumping right back in. He was quick to make light of it all, gleefully sharing the ultra-high-resolution images of his brain surgery with his colleagues and laughing it off when synapses would misfire and the words wouldn’t come out quite the way he had intended. Danny’s friends, family, clients, and colleagues quickly learned that his brain tumor was not going to slow him down. In fact, Danny set the pace in life for the rest of us as he continually sought out new and grander adventures. The crazier and more extreme the idea, the more excited Danny was for it. From a home-made 10+ person toboggan (imagine a big piece of plywood on an old set of skis with no handles) to long trips in the backcountry, more was always more.
In less than 2 years, SkyFire’s Ontario office led by Danny had installed more than 10% of our total installed capacity and many of our largest projects at the time. Danny’s primary focus on the customer experience is something SkyFire has worked hard to cultivate with all of our new and existing staff. Honest, humble, and incredibly attentive. While Danny helped us transition from an Alberta-based solar company to one with a national presence, he also reminded us of the importance of community and the need to focus on safety, quality, and the customer experience. These values of respect for our employees, customers, community, and the environment are now measured and 3rd party verified through our B Corp Certification achieved in 2017.
Danny lived out his final days surrounded by his family and an incredible number of close friends. Danny showed us how precious life is but also how meaningful death can be. As Danny came to peace with his fate, his focus turned to his family and friends. He wanted all of us to share in the peace he had found. He shared openly, brought friends and family together, laughed often, and smiled always.
Every memory I have of Danny is a reminder to live life to the fullest. A reminder to surround yourselves with good people and great friends, to seek out grand adventures, to take risks and go for it, and to always work towards building a better world. Thanks for helping us get to where we are today Danny. Every email we send and every system we build has been touched by your time with us – our logo is just one small sign of this. It is the underlying smiles, light-heartedness and values-based approach to life that carry your legacy forward within SkyFire and with all of your friends. Your life is defined by how you carry on.