Remembering my Husband

Well, it’s been awfully quiet around here.

As some of you may already know, I lost my husband more than a year ago. An avid skier, he suffered life-ending injuries in a tragic accident on a mountain in New Hampshire. I was with him, and over the days that followed the rest of the family was able to join him before he passed. It goes without saying that my son and I, my three stepchildren, and our three grandchildren are bereft.

Howell was a man with a great appetite for life, so of course he would be fearlessly skiing just shy of his 75th birthday. That same fearlessness led him to help a great many people during his career as an attorney. Most notably, he and the legendary 50s rhythm and blues singer Ruth Brown worked together to shame the major record labels over unpaid royalties. Using his well-honed negotiating skills, Howell talked them into paying the recording artists of Ruth’s era the royalties that were owed to them for hits they had recorded years ago. With the help of performers such as Bonnie Raitt, Howell and Ruth started the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which helped artists obtain their royalties and get other much needed benefits, like health insurance.

I married Howell in the late 80s when he started the R&B Foundation, and the joy for me was getting to know Ruth and other artists such as Jimmy Scott, Charles Brown, and members of the Clovers and the Drifters. Ruth used to call our house and say “is Our Husband home?” because she felt so close to him that it was like he had an extra wife.

The New York Times did a heartfelt obituary for Howell that talks about the many aspects of his adventuresome life and you can find it here.

As an entertainment lawyer, Howell had loyal clients who counted on him to take care of intellectual property rights and other matters for the Motion Picture Academy, The Kennedy Center, and the American Film Institute. When he was working on the Oscars, I would show up in L.A. a couple of days before the show, and the two of us would have the most fun watching rehearsal and gossiping about what was going on behind the scenes.

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After Howell’s death, he was honored by the Oscars, the Grammys, and the American Film Institute on their TV shows. His clients from those organizations still tell me how much they miss him.

People who knew Howell found him to be gregarious, talkative, and–as I mentioned before–fearless. How fearless? Well, after raising three children, he was not intimidated by taking on fatherhood again–at age 58. And Howell was determined that our son would go with us on jaunts around the world–regardless of how old and tired we might feel. Here’s Howell and our Charles on the Paris metro a decade ago.

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Howell always believed in pursuing “the big idea” and being persistent in following a dream. As much as I made fun of “Mr. Art Deco” here on the blog, he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for my work as a fashion historian and sewing peep. Here you can see him in the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires diving into a pile of vintage buttons to find just the right ones for my “makes.”

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When my Dad’s wife very nicely gifted me her mother’s Singer Featherweight, Howell got out the metal polish to shine her right up.

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A man of style and taste, Howell always appreciated great design, so he would actually enjoy accompanying me to fashion exhibits. He also spent a lot of time helping me with aspects of my research–including sending a former colleague on a hunt to track down designer Claire McCardell’s will! His motto was “I don’t take no for an answer” which served him well throughout his career. When he got home, though, he knew he was better suited using his formidable negotiating skills with me. We were a well-matched pair who shared joy, sorrow, parenthood, and, of course, a lot of fun.

In June, we had a heartfelt memorial service for Howell on Martha’s Vineyard, where he had spent 45 summers. Our dear friend, the talented musician Kate Taylor, put together an ace band, so we had an afternoon of music and remembrances featuring friends from around the world. The day before, our close friends Nat and Pam Benjamin took the family out on a wooden sailboat that Nat had designed and built, to scatter Howell’s ashes in Vineyard Haven harbor. Now Howell can spend eternity sailing around his favorite spot, and I’ll always know where to find him.IMG_6109.jpg

It was a sad time for all of us over the holidays this past year, but on Christmas Eve, a year from the day of his accident, I realized that Howell hadn’t completely left us. I took comfort in knowing that his spirit was still next to me, within my son.

62 thoughts on “Remembering my Husband

  1. What a beautiful tribute. I especially liked the part about him embracing fatherhood-a wonderful example for all men today. May his memory be eternal!

  2. Julie, I didn’t even know who your husband was before, but clearly he was a very remarkable man. I was thinking of you earlier today even though I haven’t been in touch in ages, because you have sometimes posted the glorious makes you’ve worn to the Oscars. I’m so sorry that you and your family have lost Howell.

  3. Julie, I am so sorry for your loss but am grateful that you shared it with us. He sounds like a remarkable person.

  4. As I watch the Academy Awards, your post came to mind. You were so fortunate to have such a loving, supportive husband and I do hope the memory of him gives you solace. I so envied your posts of your Oscar outfits….in that you are AT the Oscars!!! Thank you for sharing a small portion of your life…

  5. A special man, a meaningful life, and now it’s time for you to leave the quiet and adventure (you’ll find a piece of him every time you do). Big hug!

  6. I’m always going to watch the Oscars thinking of the two of you. “We” had a fun evening tonight, and you were very generous with the snacks at the after party. 😉 Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Love you,
    Stephanie

  7. Nous pensons à lui avec le sourire ! à sa sa générosité, à ses yeux bleus rieurs et malicieux, et à toi, surtout en cette semaine des Oscars… Nous avons eu beaucoup de chance de le côtoyer, un peu, de SBH à LA … Il restera toujours dans notre coeur. Je t’embrasse et t’envoie des tonnes de courage … et, je sais que tu n’en manques pas. Nous espérons te voir bientôt. On t’embrasse tres fort, Christine

  8. My heart sank at the title to your post – so sorry for the loss you and your family experienced. Thank you for sharing this lovely tribute (as well as all your earlier posts).

    Warm regards and may 2020 bring more happy memories to you and your family.

    ceci

  9. Thank you.  Such a lovely tribute.  I hope you and your son plus the rest of the family is doing well.  You certainly married a very special man.  I look forward to more Jet Set Sewing posts in the future.  By the way, I have the same Singer Featherweight which was my Mother’s.  You may know that my Mom was Fashion Designer, Libby Payne.  She bought the featherweight righ.t before WWII use she had been told sewing machines would be hard to find if a war started.  She made so much on that machine.  I have been sewing with it, on and off, for most of my life and it is still in terrific shapeSent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

    • Hi Holly, thanks, we’re doing well. Your sister Penny told me a lot about your mom, and I also read about her in the book “Hidden Histories” that was released a couple of years ago. The featherweights are really wonderful little machines.

  10. Julie, What a heartfelt and beautiful summary of Howell’s life. I am so glad I was able to know such a wonderful man and be part of his loving family.

  11. My condolences to you and your family. My heart was jolted on reading your headline and then amazed at the beautiful tribute that followed. I am another who was wondering what this year’s Oscar outfit would be and I truly hope that, while your sorrow may never leave you, the intensity of grief lessens with time.

  12. Although I don’t watch the Academy Awards, I thought of you last night. Your posts about going to the event always made me happy–a real person wearing her elegant hand made clothes. And of course, I knew you were there because of your husband. What a wonderful man he was! I wish you and your son beautiful memories.

  13. Like your husband, Julie, you, too are fearless. That trait is serving you well as you venture forward in this world without his physical presence. I’m sure he is so proud of you and your son, and surely he is guiding you both in ways you cannot imagine.
    This was a lovely tribute to him.

  14. Oh Julie, I am so very sorry for your tragic loss…I didn’t know, but now understand why I had not been getting my favorite blog, filled with your adventures. Along with Holly’s comments, I add that your enthusiasm for life, and your marvelous craft will contunue to serve you well, as you and your son continue your adventures – with Howell right there with you.
    Please stay in touch with me here in NYC. Penny …….penny.payne@cssindustries.com

  15. I am so sorry to hear this. I lost my husband of 25 years seven years ago. Not a day goes by I don’t think of him. I know he watches over me and still guides my decision making. Cherish those moments when you know he is near.

  16. Julie, I’ve been reading your blog for
    many years, but had no idea about the tragedy. My husband is a gun skier. Currently I’m working in a locked dementia unit, I so don’t want to sound flippant but there are worse ways to go. We have a pact! Please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss, he sounded like an amazing person to have on your (anyone’s) side. X

  17. This post is truly a celebration of love and life; thank you for sharing it with us. I’ve heard it said that no one is truly gone until the ripples they made in the world fade away; it sounds like that will be a very, very long time.

  18. A beautiful tribute that made me understand how remarkable your husband was and how his work was transformative for so many artists. I hope the many happy memories of your life together continue to bless you and your son in the years to come.

  19. Hello Julie , I was wondering about you just a little while ago as I have always enjoyed reading your posts . They are so interesting as well as being very well crafted . Now I understand . I am so very sorry for your loss .You have honoured your time with Howell beautifully in this post . Thank you . I will be thinking of you and hoping that you strengthen toward a rewarding and loving new life. Mem in Melbourne

  20. Dear Julie, I’m so sorry. The past year must have been difficult for you and your son. This post is a lovely tribute to Howell. His enthusiasm for life was evident as you shared adventures with your family travels around the world. I hope the wonderful memories of him can help ease the pain you must feel. Best wishes to your, your son and entire family.

  21. Dear and darling Julie, Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to Howell with us, your avid fans of jetsetsewing. I miss Howell very much and reading your words and seeing the pictures of him that you’ve posted have brought him back to me in floods of memories, gratitude and love. It is also so good to read your writing and I look forward to more of your stories here and beyond. xoxo, Kate

    • Lovely Kate, I’ve been thinking so much about how you and my other Vineyard friends came to my aid after Howell passed away. You in particular did so much to create that heartfelt tribute to him in June. So memorable! Charles and I send you lots of love and look forward to seeing you this summer.

  22. I am so sorry for your loss. Your memories of your husband are very touching. I will keep you in my thoughts. When you are ready, I will eagerly read your updates.

  23. What a beautifully written tribute. You and your son must miss Howell so much! I was having trouble commenting earlier but my husband and I often thought about you this past year. In December we watched the documentary Standing in the shadows of Motown and we opened a good bottle of wine to drink to the memory of your remarkable husband and the outstanding work he did for so many musicians.

    • Thanks very much for writing, Marianne. We do miss Howell very much, but his memory and good works live on. Also his music collection—which brings back the good times when we listen to it.

  24. What a beautiful post. I am so sorry for you and your family. That’s for sharing with us. I have been living in a cave for the past few years and missed hearing this. May you continue to find peace.

  25. I only recently saw this blog entry and so was saddened to learn this. Wishing you and your family peace in these difficult times.

    • Thanks very much for your kind thoughts. We’re doing well, and my son is off to college next week. It’s been a sad time, but we’re getting our feet back under ourselves.

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