Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Haney Howell

Said farewell this past weekend to my old friend and colleague Haney Howell.

Haney, who died earlier this month, was eulogized fondly three days ago by many who attended a Memorial Service in his honor at Winthrop University.

So no need for me here to repeat any of what’s already been said.

But yes, he was definitely a legend in broadcast journalism.

And yes, no one was his equal when it came to storytelling—a skill he parlayed skillfully into his teaching.
And yes, many a student loved him—not necessarily for what he knew (albeit Haney was an encylopedia of information about journalism, broadcasting and the Vietnam War) but for the man he was.

He always had time for students. Loved connecting with them and helping shape their lives.

The man from the tiny railroad town of Copper Hill, Tennessee, never met a stranger.

And for sure never “got above his raisin’,” as they say in the mountains of East Tennessee (where I’m also from).

A few things you didn’t hear at the Memorial Service but stuff I remember about Haney:

1. When he interviewed for a faculty job at Winthrop College (yes Winthrop was a college, not a university, in 1988), the chair of the mass communication department asked me to escort Haney to the president’s office. The president was Martha Kime Piper, and I recall walking Haney over to her office (“the Vatican” as I used to call it) on that warm sunny day. Haney, who had flown down to South Carolina from the cold confines of Minnesota, seemed happy and upbeat as we made our way to Tillman Hall.

As we walked, I asked him what he thought about Winthrop. A prolific traveler all his life, Haney told me he was really ready to settle down and be a teacher. He shared with me that he was tired of so much moving around and ready for stability.

The feisty, always personable President Piper invited me to sit in on his interview, which I did. In reviewing Haney’s vita, I recall her commenting, “I see that you’ve done quite a bit of traveling.”

When Haney nodded yes, she asked him how many countries he’d visited.

Haney told her seventy.

Raising her eyebrows, President Piper responded, “And what has been your favorite?”

He said India.

2. Okay, on to my next personal recollection of Haney. Because he and I were both Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force veterans, we often harkened back to those years (the late 60s and early 70s). Haney worked in air traffic control (in the tower helping pilots navigate the skies and stay true to their flight plans). I, on the other hand, was in aircraft control and warning; they called us “scope dopes.” We were not in a tower but we tracked and kept a record of the aircraft that Haney helped navigate.

Haney would often remind me that he got out of the Air Force with four stripes—as a staff seargent, while I was discharged as a buck seargent (three stripes). So yes, he outranked me, and danged if I ever knew how he earned those stripes so fast, because rank was extremely hard to make during those days in the Air Force. So I had a Ph.D.—while my friend/colleague Haney didn’t—but he still always outranked me.

3. There’s this curious thing called “tenure” that you get in academia when the higher education powerstructure thinks you’re worth keeping around long term. I’m sure Haney, as I had, had been fired somewhere along the line in his earlier career in the mass media. That’s just the way in seems to shake out in the media. Sooner or later, you offend someone with your reporting or writing or something happens or there’s a budget cut or a change in management and they cut you loose.

Not so much with academia. So the day that Haney was awarded tenure at Winthrop, I remember him bouncing into my office with a big smile. “You know, Larry, if I can just keep my nose clean, I’ve got a job for life!” he said. It was a day, for sure, for him to rejoice.

4. Haney and I always shared the fact that we were not academics in the pure sense of the word, but rather Air Force vets who happened to be media refugees. We were proud of our military service, but I also thought that Winthrop sometimes undervalued that aspect of our lives. Haney, even if deep down he felt the same way, never complained. Instead, he seemed utterly content to be a respected professor at a small southern college. He did make it a point, as I did, to always try to be present at the Veterans Day celebration organized by the good folks at Dacus Library. And I seem to recall that he was the featured speaker at a few of those occasions.

Well, those, for what it’s worth are some of my personal thoughts on the man that touched so many lives during his time on this planet.

We will never forget Haney Howell. There will never again be another like him, and somewhere, even now, I suspect he’s making a difference in a good way.

Rest in peace, my colleague and friend.