WILMINGTON — He led a charmed life. Born in Tallahassee, Florida the day John Glenn, USMC, the first to orbit the earth, Howell escaped being named John Glenn Graham. That was his father’s first name choice, but he still managed to be named for a Marine. His maternal grandfather Charles Howell Schaeffer was also a Marine in WWI and WWII.
His mother, Nan Tutwiler Young Schaeffer from Alabama and father, the late Lt Col Ernest Heap Graham USMC from Goldsboro, NC discovered early on that Howell had Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease which at the time predicted a limited life of 6 years. Howell beat the odds at every decade. He graduated from College Preparatory High School in Charleston SC where the family lived for ten years. College at UNC Wilmington, Howell graduated with a B>S> in Business from UNCW. Thirty-four years later, he received the UNCW Outstanding Alumni Award from the Cameron School of Business at his beloved Alma Mater.
He learned to sail in the family sailboat at the age of 10 in Charleston Harbor and was an adept and passionate sailor until the very end. The water was his place of freedom. His final boat was aptly named Nine Lives. Exploring the intracoastal waterway and the ocean in Nine Lives seemed to give him a sense of peace and happiness more than anyplace else. “Tasting, feeling and smelling the salt of the ocean. Testing and challenging the mighty Atlantic…bringing so much joy, freedom. Becoming one with the ocean,” wrote one of his dear friends.
What most people remember about Howell is his wicked sense of humor and his unfailing kindness. He learned early on the “Your word is your bond.” Often quoted from his father. The old saw, “He never met a stranger,” was certainly true of this social animal. According to his friends, he held court at Starbucks most mornings on his way to work as a partner at Joseph Robb Rel Estate Appraisals.
Soft hearted, he would stop and pick up any stray dog lost and loose in in traffic, put it in his car and search for the missing owner, usually with success. Locating no owner meant finding a good home for the stray which he always managed. He also had a soft spot for box turtles, even snappers, moseying across the street or highway. He always pulled off the road to pick up or transfer the ambler to a safe zone away from the deadly road. He frequently stopped and gave money to the needy wandering the street, even brought a few souls home to meals.
After his double lung transplant at UNC Memorial Hospital in 1990, the first of its kind in the Southeast, he worked with the organ transplant group to help those waiting for lifesaving transplants. Howell often corresponded with them and gave talks about organ donation program to interested groups in Charleston and the Wilmington area. He was ever at the ready to calm the trepidation of a waiting transplant patient, encouraging them to stay positive and hopeful. He was the go-to guy for advice since he was officially the longest surviving double lung transplant on the planet. He had met the love of his life Dr. Debra Hensley and they married in 1993. He believed that he was so lucky to have his life, his wife and a bounty of devoted friends and that there would be no sickness in heaven.
His saddened survivors include his beloved wife, Debbie, his devoted sister Molly Allred and her husband Russ, his niece Caroline all of Raleigh, his mother, Nan, his ever-faithful lab Bristol and ever-obsessive French Bulldog, Luna. We are so blessed to have had him for six decades.
Memorial gifts kindly accepted by: Adopt an Angel (Animal Adoption) Box 15095 Wilmington NC 28408, Tunnels to Towers Foundation (T2T. org) or Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Attn: Donation 4550 Montgomery Ave, Suite 1100 N. Bethesda MD 20814 (Please specify “research” on your check).
There will be a private family funeral service and plans for a Celebration of Life, location and time will be announced.