Dick Howie met Ellen Ferry when they were in the Ramsey High School band. She was a freshman, playing the French horn; he was a junior who sat nearby, playing the trombone. “We dated since I was 13 years old,” said Ellen Ferry Howie this week. The couple was in their 63rd year of marriage when Mr. Howie died at age 86.
Although they gave up playing their instruments, the Howies metaphorically made beautiful music together. “We both love to sing and he’s a great, great dancer,” said Mrs. Howie. As a couple, they had brass — courageously following their faith, even to far-flung places. At the center of their marriage was a mission of helping others.
Richard William Howie was born in Queens, the son of the late William Simpson and Gladys Ann (née Riddle) Howie. “His mother was a wonderful woman, very laid back and very regal,” said Mrs. Howie. His father worked for Con Edison in New York as a shop steward. The family lived in a second-floor apartment in Queens with Mr. Howie’s cousins on the first floor. “They all had a great time together,” said Mrs. Howie.
The Howies moved to Allendale, New Jersey for Mr. Howie’s high school years, which is where he met the woman who would become his wife. “Allendale was a small town like Altamont,” said Mrs. Howie. “He had lots of friends. They’d hang out on their bikes and have a grand time.”
Right after graduating from Ramsey High School, Mr. Howie joined the United States Navy as a medic and was assigned to the Marine Corps. He served from 1954 to 1958. After training at Camp Pendleton in California, Mr. Howie was stationed in Okinawa. During those years, Mrs. Howie, a registered nurse, was in nursing school in New York City.
The couple married on Sept. 13, 1958 in Ramsey, New Jersey soon after Mr. Howie was discharged from the service. “He went to school on the GI Bill for three years in New York City while I was having two babies, 15 months apart,” said Mrs. Howie.
Mr. Howie worked as a licensed airframe and powerpoint aeronautical mechanic for US Airways. His job at the Albany airport brought the family to Altamont where the Howies had their third child. “He loved his work. He had lots of friends in the industry,” said Mrs. Howie. To keep his job, Mr. Howie had to move frequently, and his family went with him — to Philadelphia; Baltimore; Middletown, Pennsylvania; Altamont; Bloomfield, Connecticut; and finally back to Altamont. “We never sold the Altamont house; we just rented it,” said Mrs. Howie.
During the years the Howies were in Philadelphia and Baltimore, they lived communally as part of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, Ecumenical Institute, Order: Ecumenical. The institute was founded after World War II with the mission of building a just and equitable society in harmony with the Planet Earth.
“Our finances were shared and we each had different assignments in the house. Some took care of kids. Others shopped or did cooking,” said Mrs. Howie. “By living together and sharing resources, we could be more effective. As we began to work around the world, we needed to be non-religious.” The point of the organization, she explained, wasn’t to proselytize but rather to help others.
The Howies consulted with communities in Wales, Germany, and China among other places. “It was not an easy life for our kids,” said Mrs. Howie although she noted they all loved each other and had turned out well with their son who is “very savvy with different people” in sales, their older daughter working as a registered nurse, and their younger daughter teaching in challenging schools in Washington, D.C.
Of the Howies’ peripatetic lifestyle, Mrs. Howie said, “We lived in many places; it was fascinating … And we visited many places in the world because of flying privileges with Dick’s job. We always made wonderful friends.” Of all the places in the world, what was the Howies’ favorite? “It’s Altamont because of the community,” said Mrs. Howie. “Dick just loved Altamont.” A quick trip to the post office, she said, could turn into an extended visit, she said, because her husband enjoyed “chitchat” with so many people. “The people here became like extended family,” Mrs. Howie said. “Right now, everyone is surrounding me.”
When the Howies first moved to Altamont in the early 1960s, they joined the Altamont Reformed Church, a commitment that lasted the rest of their lives. “Dick was raised a Methodist. I was Episcopalian … We intentionally wanted a church that needed us, where we could make a difference,” said Mrs. Howie. Mr. Howie put out a church newsletter for years and also served as an elder. During the COVID-19 shutdown, he loved to sing in the virtual church choir, Mrs. Howie said. “We are definitely not proselytizers,” said Mrs. Howie. “We enjoy people, we enjoy community.”
Mr. Howie also volunteered for Community Caregivers, which helps people stay in their homes by providing needed services. And he was very supportive of the Altamont Free Library where he served as a trustee at the time of his death. “He was incredibly proud to have helped build the library,” said Joe Burke, the library’s director. The library had not had a permanent home until it purchased and renovated the old train station at the center of the village.
“He was a huge cheerleader, putting up drywall, painting,” said Mr. Burke. “He and Ellen are about helping other people, about collaboration.” Mr. Burke went on about his friend, “He had an incredibly rich interior life, a solid moral and ethical compass.”
Mr. Howie, his wife said, loved being a father and then a grandfather. “He just loved people and all the grandkids loved being with him,” she said. The family would take a week-long vacation at the beach every year for 27 years, she said. “Richard loved dancing, sitting at the beach all day, chips and ice cream, spending time with family and friends,” his family wrote in a tribute.
Mr. Howie, his wife said, was “very task-oriented” and enjoyed maintaining the yard at their Prospect Terrace home. He mowed the lawn just three days before he died. “We built a 28-foot labyrinth. He’d weedwack the seven circuits and I’d ask, ‘Who are you praying for?’ He said, ‘I’m praying the grass won’t grow,’” his wife recalled with a chuckle.
“He was very much an extrovert, a people person,” said Mrs. Howie. “He loved having a good time.” She concluded, “We are very grateful for his life …. Of course there’s a sadness but we have a belief this isn’t all there is.”
Richard William Howie is survived by his devoted wife, Ellen Elizabeth (née Ferry) Howie; by their children, Anne Louis and her husband, Frank Mercede, James Michael and his wife, Claudia Borrero, and Ruth Katharine and her husband, John Hammons; and by his grandchildren, Michael, Maryanne, Christine, Sarah, Alexandria, and Holly.
With Ellen, his children and grandchildren, we celebrate the profound service and generosity of Richard (and Ellen) that we know through their work with EI, OE, and ICA. In keeping with his love of the ocean, “Journey On, Richard, with grace and peace and love, on life’s unending sea, “
~~ Lynda and John Cock
Ellen, I remember you and Dick from the ICA area meetings we used to have at Shepherd’s Spring. I’ve always enjoyed your posts and comments. I grieve with you that Dick will be going on to better things and that you’ll be left to continue on without him. And I also know that you are celebrating his life and his being.
~~ Susan Fertig-Dykes
Ellen, it has been a delight to reconnect with you in the past year. I have fond memories of both you and Dick from time in the New York Region where you were among the giants of the region. Somehow, I still recall clearly hearing of your call to the New York House telling of Dick’s very serious encounter with an airplane propeller – from which he recovered! As a couple you and Dick were spirit dancers in life together. Journey on….
~~ Beret Griffith
I remember Dick as always gracious and welcoming. Ken and I had a glorious opportunity to visit Ellen and Dick in New York at their lovely home on the side of a mountain. We sat outside in the Spring sun talking and talking. Truly cherished days and conversations. We are thankful for Dick’s life of service to the OE and to the world,
~~ Mary Laura Jones and Ken Otto
Philadelphia House like 1976 where Dick was a great help in kicking off the Town Meeting campaign-always there for any assignment. A pillar of the House. Go in Peace!
~~ Dick Alton
Ellie and I have known and loved the Howie’s since the Seventies and the Local Church Experiment in the former Rochester Region. What an incredible person Dick has been over the years in the Spirit Movement and in his local community! He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers to Ellen and the Howie Family and friends as we all celebrate his life and mourn his passing. The hope, peace, joy, and love of the Mystery be with you…..