|William S. Howard
WILLIAM S. ”BABE” HOWARD, 82,
President and General Manager of Millington Telephone Company passed
away July 11, 2008 at Methodist North Hospital.
Visitation will be Sunday,
July 13, 2008 4 pm-8 pm at The Millington Civic Center. Services will be
11 am Monday, July 14, 2008 at First Baptist Church in Millington.
Interment at Northridge - Woodhaven Cemetery.
Mr. Howard was preceded in
death by his wife Ann Anderson Howard, a daughter, Carol Keith Howard
and a brother, Cheely Howard. He is survived by three daughters,
Charlotte Barry of Millington, TN, Holly Starnes of Munford, TN, Laura
L. Rosas of Germantown, TN, and one son, Stuart Howard of Shelby Forest,
TN. Parents were the late Bessie and Billy Howard. He is also survived
by two sisters, B’Lou Carter of Millington, TN and Billie Louise Moten
of Memphis, six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may
be made to the charity of the donor’s choice.
Munford Funeral Home
Millington Chapel 901-873-0123
Published in The Commercial
Appeal on 7/13/2008
HOWARD'S LIFE WAS
NEVER ON HOLD, PHONE EXEC TOUCHED
FOLKS/EVENTS ACROSS MEMPHIS
BY TOM BAILEY, JR.
COMMERCIAL APPEAL, MEMPHIS, TN
FRIDAY, JULY 11, 2008
W.S. "Babe" Howard, the colorful telephone man whose civic life
reverberated such a long distance, died Friday after an illness. He was
82, having led his family-owned Millington Telephone Company since his
father died in 1953. "His passing is going to be the end of an era in
Millington history," Mayor Terry Jones said. "He's been a cornerstone in
our community for many years."
Although Mr. Howard was folksy and drawled like the
molasses he made, he devoured books and fed his own curiosity in ways
that benefited everyone from nature enthusiasts to baseball players to
business owners. He loved fainting goats, so he founded an annual
festival called International Goat Days. He revered the past, so he
restored some of Millington's oldest buildings, sold sorghum molasses he
made the old-fashioned way and opened a restaurant named Old Timers. He
liked what baseball could could do for the youth playing it, so he built
a stadium good enough for the USA Olympic team. He took seriously the
spirit of Santa Claus, so for 50 years he presented a St. Nick who wowed
local youngsters by somehow knowing the names of their teachers and toys
on their wish lists. He revered nature and wildlife, so he personally
risked $4 million to ensure 4,076 pristine acres went to the Wolf River
Conservancy and state of Tennessee instead of loggers and developers.
He was as comfortable chairing the Tennessee Wildlife
Resources Agency as he was taking his usual chair in the lunchroom of
the telephone company on Navy Road. Everyone from congressmen to his
blue-collar friends would bustle through the kitchen/lunchroom, which is
probably why he preferred having his work space there. He didn't make
appointments, said the phone company's plant manager, Albert Hutcheson.
"Drive by--if his car is there he's probably in there."
Ginny Music, his secretary from 1960 to 1991, recalled
Mr. Howard as "a people person." He could afford tailored business suits
but wore khaki work clothes, brogans with white socks and wide
suspenders. They were more comfortable. In fact, if Mr. Howard attended
a funeral, wedding or formal meeting, he'd bring his coat and tie in his
car, slip them on at the last minute at a gas station near the event,
then change again on the way back, Music said. But there was
another reason he wore work clothes. "He didn't want people to think he
was better than they were," Music said.
Lifelong Millington resident Dennis Wages said Howard
"judged not by the cut of your suit, but the quality of man you are..."
"He serves a population of people who are working people. And that's his
friends." His appearance sometimes fooled people who make assumptions.
Music recalled accompanying Mr. Howard decades ago to
Memphis to buy a new car at a Lincoln dealership. Wearing his usual
working-man's clothes, Howard walked around the showroom, but no
salesman ever approached. "Finally, he said, 'To hell with it, let's get
out of here," Music recalled. He went to another dealership where a
salesman met him at the door and made an easy sale.
Mr. Howard engaged himself fully with his community,
serving 19 years as a Millington alderman, 17 years on the Shelby County
school board and with many other government and civic organizations.
But not everyone adored Mr. Howard. He could be
stubborn in getting his way and lose a temper that would make his lips
tremble and ears turn red. He lost a re-election bid for alderman in
1984 when he tried unsuccessfully to have Millington Central High School
principal Joe Morton transferred. So later that year, he resigned his
school board seat on principle, saying he no longer represented the
sentiments of most his constituents. "You either like Babe or you don't
like him," Music said, adding that some were simply jealous.
But his acts of kindness and generosity to people who
needed a hand were far too many to count or too quiet to know about,
Music said. Many insisted on writing him IOUs, but he hardly ever
bothered to look in the envelope that held them in her desk drawer, she
Mr. Howard was a national leader in the community of
independent telephone companies. He turned to the founder of another
independent, Century Telephone in Louisiana, to get him out of a jam in
the mid-1990s. Some of Mr. Howard's relatives sued so they could sell
their controlling interest in Millington Telephone to a Chicago holding
company for $25 million. Not wanting to sell, Mr. Howard settled with
them out of court, borrowing the $25 million from Century Telephone's
Clarke Williams. Struggling to repay that loan, Mr. Howard in 1997 sold
his 25 percent interest in the local, 13-county franchise of BellSouth
Mobility. He didn't reveal at the time how much he received from
BellSouth, but had said in 1995 that his share was worth $48 million.
But it was people, not money, that made Mr. Howard
happy, friends said. Mr. Howard didn't open the popular Old Timers
restaurant to turn a buck, but to create a gathering spot, Hutcheson
said. "If you were ever at Old Timers when he goes in and he starts
table-hopping, I'd say that would be right up there at the top,"
Hutcheson said. "I almost think that was the sole purpose, to draw
people together and have a place to go and mix with them on a regular
Mr. Howard cared for people all his adult life. As a
young man who raced cars for a hobby, he often sped people to the
hospital in his own vehicle. Wages recalled as a child seeing Mr. Howard
climb a telephone pole on Navy Road to try to save an employee who had
been electrocuted. Mr. Howard and another man administered CPR and he
brought the victim down on his shoulder. "To see Mr. Howard up that pole
trying to saving that young man's life...leaves an impression about the
type individual he was," Wages said.
Wages was a USA Baseball volunteer when the Cuban
national team came to play. He had put out up to 15 bars of soap in the
locker room, but the next day all the soap was gone. "I said, 'Mr.
Howard, they're taking our soap.' "He said, 'Put more out.'" Same thing
happened with the toilet paper. Next day, the extra soap and toilet
paper were gone again. "He realized that they could not easily get soap
and toilet paper in Cuba and they were taking it home," Wages said. "He
saw the problem way before I saw the problem. And nothing was ever said
about it (to the Cubans)." Mr. Howard, Wages said, helped families who
couldn't pay their phone bill. Supplied choir robes to churches. Put
Little League teams in uniforms. Sponsored girls softball in a big way.
"And there's so many we'll never know about, the people he's helped."