Pete Howell, bon vivant, lover of the arts, and advocate for the homeless, died Feb. 8.
Pete was a longtime staffer at The Star Democrat and The Times-Record, a weekly paper in Caroline County, a huge supporter of the local arts community, and a regular volunteer at the local homeless shelter.
Pete is survived by his daughter Kate and second wife Carla. His first wife, Ginger, Kate’s mom, died in December 2005.
Pete moved to Easton with his family to take a position with The Star Democrat.
Denise Riley, the paper’s longtime editor, recalled their first meeting:
“Pete and I sat at the Tidewater Inn for lunch when I interviewed him for a job — back however many years ago — and he was so confident and adamant that he wanted to move his family to Easton and very enthusiastic about working at The Star Democrat.
“Obviously, eventually, he moved into entertainment coverage, which was just ideal for him. He had such an enthusiasm for entertainment activities in the community and such a knowledge of movies, music and so forth.
“He always had such a passionate interest in entertainment in the community and brought that to his job every day,” Riley said.
Mark Mangold, a friend and former colleague, said Pete was a “great guy, sharp wit.
“I think anyone who knows Pete knows how sharp a wit that guy had. Great sense of humor, super funny.”
“There was not a lot of opportunity on the Eastern Shore for that,” Mangold said. And Pete gave him the leeway to write about artists and acts that were not necessarily well known among the paper’s readers.
Pete’s role as the entertainment editor and his love for theater and the arts played an important role in the flourishing of the arts community in Easton and Talbot County, Mangold said.
“I don’t think you can overstate the importance he had at a time when Easton’s arts community really burst,” he said.
“During the time he was at the paper, a lot of theater companies were opening up, a lot of galleries were opening up and he chronicled that.
“He’d go see almost every play he could and write reviews. All the actors and directors really appreciated that,” Mangold said. “It was something we all looked forward to. He was fair, he was tough.
“When you put that much time into a show” and the performances are for only one or two weekends, it meant a lot for the theater community to receive that recognition and feedback.
“What Pete did for the acting community, the theater community, was really important. It was great to really get recognized for that work,” Mangold said. “To have someone that was really interested in that just sharpened everyone in that scene.”
Tim Weigand, of the Avalon Theatre, agreed.
“He was just so important early on in the development of everything that’s happened really (in the Easton and Talbot County) theater community,” Weigand said.
“He was totally interested. Nobody else was doing it,” he said. “He was there every weekend and nobody does what he does anymore. He was the right guy for the right time.
“The arts need to be covered,” Weigand said. “(Pete) knew about the importance of covering things like that in a smaller community.”
As a reviewer, “Pete had his takes. He didn’t like over-the-top showmanship,” Weigand said. “He had his opinions and that was important for everybody to hear. He was a critic in that he was going to write what he thought about it, but he wasn’t going to go searching for flaws.”
Patrick J. Fee met Pete in the mid-2000s after moving to the area with his then-wife, who was teaching at Chesapeake College.
A sound man and actor, Fee helped with some Peake Players productions and Pete later got Fee involved with the Church Hill Theatre and the Tred Avon Players.
Pete recommended Fee for a role in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at CHT after the actor playing the part had to drop out.
In a Facebook post, Fee wrote:
“My friend is gone. The man who first introduced me to Church Hill Theatre and Tred Avon Players (and my subsequent 50+ productions) has left us. The friend who was always there when I needed him; who went out of his way to make sure I was ok during my divorce; who had many good things to say in print during my tenure on the Shore; that man has passed on.
“I spoke at the memorial service of his first wife, and was there when he remarried to a wonderful, thoughtful woman. I befriended his daughter and knew I always had a place to go if I needed a friend. Heck, I even won his first road rally on the ‘Shore.
“He was a wonderful writer, a fun director, a loving father, a devoted husband, and a full-time friend. And, although we had not broken bread in a while, he was never far from my thoughts and often the topic of a really good theatre story.
“My friend had a life well lived. But he still left us too soon. I love you and miss you, Pete Howell. My eyes swim with memories of you.
“You made my life a little more special … and I will not be the same.”
Fee said Tuesday that he enjoyed Pete’s writing style, noting critics “have to tread lightly” when reviewing plays in smaller towns.
“I always knew (it might not be a production to see) when Pete would give a really good rundown of the plot of the play,” Fee laughed.
“He was just a really warm-hearted man. I appreciated and I’m really sad to see him go,” Fee said. “He was a sensitive man. He had a passion for his writing, a passion for theater and I know he had a passion for Carla.
“Pete really loved deeply. You could tell that about him. You could see that when you saw Pete and Kate together. I would be lucky to be half the dad he appeared to be to Kate.”
“The final gift that I think that people like Pete give us is a reminder to do things now and a reminder to love those around us,” Fee said. “It’s something the Quakers talk about — holding him in the light.”
Friends and colleagues also recalled his wit and cheerful attitude.
“What I most remember about Pete was his mixture of courtesy and good cheer. No matter how frustrated and furious he was (and the software we were using was an endless source of frustration and fury for us all) the minute he picked up the phone, or stopped to talk to anybody else, you’d swear he was having a great day — ‘splendid, splendid’ or at least ‘pretty good for a middle-aged fat guy,’ (he would say),” recalled Paul Briggs, a former copy editor at The Star Democrat.
“His was the sharpest wit I’ve ever seen. I didn’t like being on the wrong end of that wit, but it was worth being skewered just to talk to him because he was so sharp and observant,” Marcie A. Molloy, a former newspaper colleague, said.
A member of the Third Haven Friends Meeting, Pete volunteered at Talbot’s homeless shelter for many years and helped fight for the shelter to buy Carla’s former bed and breakfast for a permanent location.
In a Facebook post, the Talbot Interfaith Shelter wrote:
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a wonderful member of the TIS family, Pete Howell. Pete was already a longtime volunteer and team coordinator for Third Haven Friends Meeting in 2014 when, over shelter dinner at Third Haven, he brought to our attention that his wife Carla was selling her bed and breakfast and asked if we might be interested in purchasing it.
“Pete and Carla showed incredible strength, grace, and patience as we applied for our permit to operate at Easton’s Promise, and in the two years it took for all of the appeals to resolve. Since we opened our doors in November of 2014, Pete has volunteered at Easton’s Promise every Friday, as well as continuing to coordinate the volunteers from Third Haven.
“Pete and Carla are inextricably woven into the fabric of our history. We are forever grateful for what their generosity of heart and spirit have enabled us to become, and are absolutely heartbroken that Pete is no longer with us.
“His involvement in and commitment to TIS were only part of the incredible impact that Pete has made on our community.
He will be missed by all who knew him. For our part, we are blessed to have a reminder of him at our front door — a plaque dedicated to Pete and Carla for opening their door and their hearts to our neighbors in need. Thank you, Pete.”