Robert William (Bob) Howard died unexpectedly but peacefully on Oct. 3 of congestive heart failure a little more than two weeks after his 80th birthday.
He was born on Sept. 17, 1942, in Vancouver, Canada, to parents Robert Henry and Alice McIntosh Howard. When Bob was almost 6, his family moved to the nearby suburb of New Westminster, where he attended school, made the honor roll, served on the student council and excelled in sports.
He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1965 with a B.S. in math and physics. On May 15, 1965, he married Carole Munroe Howard. They were best friends and soulmates for their 57-year marriage. The young couple moved to the U.S., later becoming dual citizens, where both attended the University of California at Berkeley and Bob received an MS in aeronautical engineering. After graduation, they moved to Seattle, where he was an aeronautical engineer at Boeing, working on the SST. Under a technology transfer agreement between the U.S. and French governments, Bob’s co-invention of the chines that improved the landing abilities of the SST became a visible component on the outside front of the Concorde. His reward for this remarkable invention was a $25 U.S. Savings Bond.
In 1969, Bob returned to college to earn a second master’s degree, an MBA at the University of Washington. As a class project, he and two fellow students started a gourmet food business, which they later sold to a large Seattle company. In 1975, he joined Weyerhaeuser as a business analyst at their headquarters near Seattle, later transferring to New Jersey. In l981 he was recruited to be CEO of Reisen Lumber Industries, a specialty wood company in New Jersey, where he worked until his retirement and move to Pagosa Springs in 1995. Previously a family-owned firm, Reisen became the state’s largest employee-owned (ESOP) business under Bob’s leadership. Having worked seven summers in union jobs in sawmills to pay his way through college, Bob’s on-the-ground experience became invaluable in his later senior management roles in the lumber industry. He continued as Reisen’s chairman and ESOP trustee for many years after his move to Pagosa.
From the time he was a youngster, Bob’s passions included aviation, sports, music and theater.
His lifelong love of aviation began early because his father served in the Canadian Air Force during World War II. Bob got his private pilot’s license at age 20. Over the following 50 years, he owned 13 airplanes ranging from a single-engine, four-seat Cessna 172 to an eight-seat turboprop King Air. He also had a glider rating and owned a Blanik sailplane. He and Carole greatly enjoyed flying in his planes for travel and to return to Vancouver for visits with family and childhood friends when they lived in Berkeley, Seattle, New York and Pagosa Springs.
Growing up, Bob played on baseball, football and rugby teams. He and Carole also loved skiing, golfing and hiking, which made the move to Pagosa Springs a natural when they retired from corporate life in the New York/New Jersey area.
In high school, Bob played the clarinet in his hometown band that won several national awards in Canada. In later years, he played the guitar for sing-alongs with family and friends, with Carole on the piano. Classical music was another keen interest. He and Carole had season tickets for 20 years to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and later, in Pagosa Springs, to Music in the Mountains.
Early in life, Bob was introduced to theater with summer Theatre Under the Stars musicals in Vancouver. In grade school, he played the title role in “The Butterfly That Stamped” and the cowardly lion in “The Wizard of Oz.” He and Carole regularly attended Broadway productions during their two decades living in the New York City area, and became early patrons of Thingamajig Theatre Company at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts from its founding in 2010.
Bob was a precocious little boy with a curiosity about life, a high intelligence and a prodigious memory. Family lore says that as a 2-year-old, he walked several blocks to his favorite park and back home again by himself. At age 3, he stood up on the family piano bench and sang “Don’t Fence Me In.” At age 6, he put together a crystal set that received radio signals. A believer in lifelong learning, Bob was so well known for his ability to answer questions on a wide variety of topics that his niece Jenn called him “www.askbob” when she needed his help with her homework. He had a skill for making something very complex understandable. He loved watching “Jeopardy!” on TV, usually answering correctly before the contestants did. For all his intellect, he was a gentle, caring man who loved animals, especially the family cats.
Bob and his wife Carole married very young and built a life that they grew into together, first as married students at the University of California in Berkeley, then in Seattle and the New York area before their retirement in Pagosa Springs. They greatly enjoyed their new life in this rural mountain community. Quoting Proust, who was speaking of Venice, they liked to say, “Our dream became our address.” Or, as Ronald Reagan put it, “If this is not Heaven then at least it must have the same zip code.”
They also enjoyed traveling, especially ski trips to Europe and to their former home in Aspen, golf excursions with the Senior Golfers of America, reunions and family ski trips in Canada, and scuba diving vacations in the Caribbean, where they had a home in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Bob always learned the language of whatever countries they visited, notably the difficult Russian, Finnish, Mandarin and Gaelic languages, and the dialect of native Eskimos when they traveled to the Canadian Arctic to view polar bears.
In Pagosa Springs, Bob was an active member of the local aviation community, serving for a time as chairman of the Airport Advisory Committee. He was a member of the Gray Wolf Ski Club and Pagosa Springs Golf Club, and he and Carole enjoyed dancing to Tim Sullivan and his country music band. Even with their world travels, the Howards loved being homebodies, entertaining friends and visitors (especially Thingamajig Theatre actors and directors), and relaxing with books and their cats, first Mac and Molly and now Lucy and Marmalade, all adopted from the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs.
An avid pilot has departed the pattern for his last great flight. 515BC over and out.
Bob is survived by his wife, Carole; sister Patti and husband Don; brothers-in-law Don and wife Wendy, and Ian and wife Joanne; nephews and nieces Craig and Maureen and family; Odessa and family; Grant and Natalie; Melissa and Olivia; and Jenn; his Aunt Heather and Vilvang cousins — Jim and Margot, Randi, Nancy and Howie, Maggie and Richard and their families; his Howard cousins; and a multitude of dear friends. In honor of Bob, please consider making a contribution to one of his most-admired Pagosa Springs nonprofits — Thingamajig Theatre Company, Pagosa Springs Medical Center, the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs or the Ruby Sisson Library.