FRED ALVIN HOWELL, Sr., the ninth of ten children born to John Jasper and Maria Thomas Clayton Howell, was born on February 22, 1934, in Surry County, Virginia. He passed away on Thursday, December 5, 2019, one week after a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with family and friends on a four-hour “pass” from The Courville rehab center in Nashua, where he had been working to recover from a broken hip.
Fred was raised and spent his formative years in Philadelphia, PA. He attended Gillespie Junior High School, where he was recognized for his meritorious scholarship, and Simon Gratz High School, where, among other activities, he was a member of the varsity football team (earning a Championship Award for its 1949 season and Highest Athletic Honors for the 1950 season) and also enjoyed skating. Fred graduated high school with the class of January 1951, at the age of 16. He began his college years at Temple University where he became a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in 1952. He interrupted his formal studies and served his country from 1956 to 1958 as a member of the United States Army, Private First Class. While in the Army, Fred completed an eight week course in Finance and Accounting from the Service Finance School, in Indianapolis, Indiana (1957), and was classified as a Finance and Accounting Specialist, responsible for daily updating and bookkeeping of accrued expenditures for Post Ordnance and Post Commissary.
After his honorable discharge from the army, Fred drove a taxi and during that time returned to college, attending LaSalle University, from which he graduated with a degree in Mathematics in May of 1963. He ultimately became an engineer and computer programmer. Both during college and after graduation, Fred worked as a programmer in the UNIVAC divisions of Remington-Rand and Sperry Rand (now known as Unisys), and, shortly thereafter, for Philco Corporation of America, in both cases, we believe, working alongside his childhood friend and fellow LaSalle graduate Leon Ellerson (who later became his daughter’s godfather). In 1965, after Philco was bought by the Ford Motor Company, Fred moved to Burroughs Corporation, where he progressed further in his career, working as a programmer, programming section leader, and programming supervisor, and was responsible for the design, flowcharting, coding, debugging and implementation of a number of different computer systems. In 1977, moving his family from outside Philadelphia, PA to Sudbury, MA, Fred left Burroughs to join Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1977, eventually retiring from DEC in 1996.
Among his many professional achievements at Burroughs, Fred was instrumental in designing the program underlying the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) system, a vast messaging network used by banks and other financial institutions to quickly, accurately and securely send and receive information, such as money transfer instructions. He held many engineering leadership positions at DEC, including manager of the database software group and manager of the Terminals and Printers business group.
From his marriage to Ann R. Chandler on April 22, 1967, he was blessed with two children, Fred Alvin Howell, Jr. and Deneen Lynne Howell. In his spare time, Fred enjoyed tinkering in his basement workshop, making tables for his extensive collection of electric trains and desks for his children’s studies, and working with Fred, Jr. to make Pinewood Derby cars for Boy Scouts, eventually helping him build a bridge traversing wetlands in Sudbury, MA, and become an Eagle Scout. On weekends, he loved making waffles, pancakes, bacon or sausage, and scrambled cheese-and-eggs. Besides Saturday morning breakfast, what his children perhaps loved most during their early years were the huge cardboard boxes used to ship mainframe computers that their dad would bring home and help turn into forts.
Fred was incredibly smart. He helped his children with the toughest math and physics problems. He got his son started in a career in computer science and, although she pursued a career in law, inspired his daughter’s inner-engineer as well; she still greatly enjoys tinkering, designing and building furniture. He taught his children various strategy games – checkers, chess, backgammon and cards – that they enjoyed playing with Fred through his final days. They treasured their rare victories over their father's skill, but most importantly they treasured their time together.
Fred also was tough. He taught his children right from wrong. Things were done his way and that was the “right” way. He had a presence and could communicate with just a look. And while he was quick with discipline, he also was their greatest champion.
Fred was special. You couldn’t meet him and not instantly know it.
As an adult, Fred enjoyed many hobbies, including science fiction novels, tennis, cribbage, backgammon, various card games, making meatballs from scratch, “playing” on his computer, and a good scotch (or two). Fred also was a long-time member of the Bach-Mars and the Cambridge Gun & Rod Club (short on guns and rods, but long on friendship and good times). And before his own health circumstances intervened, he would volunteer his time taking meals to the elderly or bringing them to medical appointments.
Most of all, Fred loved his family, loved his friends just as much, and got that same love in return. To his friends and his family, he was a constant source of humor, wisdom, and warmth. He was generous with his time, rarely missing an opportunity to laugh and talk with family and friends, whether at home, together with his long-time partner, Gailyn Casaday, or at a family reunion, club gathering, holiday celebration or, more often than not, at a favorite “spot.” Among his favorite spots were You You’s (a popular Sushi restaurant in Nashua, NH), and the “Camp” (home of the Cambridge Gun & Rod Club on Cobbosseecontee Lake, near Gardiner, Maine), where he has chosen to have his ashes spread.
Fred was preceded in death by a brother who died at birth, six of his seven sisters, Anna Howell, Carolyn Cottman, Jasper Brown, Willie Mae Howell, Thomasine Carter, and Maude Prioleau, and his brother, John S. Howell, Sr.
He is survived by his sister, Florence Scott; his sister-in-law, Fanny Howell; two children, Fred A. Howell, Jr. and Deneen Howell; Fred, Jr.’s partner, Jen Roukey; his son-in-law, Donald Vieira; two grandchildren, Jasper and Vivian Vieira; his devoted partner, Gailyn Casaday; Gailyn’s daughter, Carlyn Robinson, and her grandchild, Frankie Robinson; and a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives and close friends who he also counted as family.
He was loved and will be greatly missed. Always.
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