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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.