Some time ago, a friend of mine offered an assessment of many of my freelance writings, jokingly referring to me as the area’s preeminent obituary writer. I had to laugh at the notion that before someone who mattered greatly to me could be properly put to rest, his or her life had to, somehow, pass through my pen.
The truth is, while death is certainly not my favorite topic as I try to spin the content dial in my own writings, it is the one great cosmic certainty that every living entity shares. And, just as there is great potential to learn from people’s lives, there are also those lessons that come in reflection when, as the great American recluse poet Emily Dickinson would say, death kindly stops for us.
For Robert “Buz” Howard, with whom I taught English for 27 years at St. Marys Memorial, the mortal segment of his journey ended at the age of 74 on Aug. 22 after some health battles fought over time. And, fittingly, especially for him, he passed where he was most comfortable, home.
While I haven’t seen my former Memorial colleagues much, including Buz, since my retirement from education in 2005, with much of that being my own fault for spending so much time in my laborious pursuits, that’s not to say that I still don’t cherish my time with them when they helped me do the most important job I knew I would ever have. They were indeed my brothers and sisters in education.
Despite my not seeing Buz’s medical challenges up close, my guess is, knowing him, he faced them with more than a dollop of stoicism and less than a thimble full of self-pity.
Having lived through the loss of his younger brother, Jace, who collapsed and died of undetected heart disease while still a Memorial student and, years later, the loss of his son, Tommy, whose heart gave out just weeks after his Memorial graduation, Buz was a realist. He knew the family history and accepted its potential inevitabilities while keeping a clear eye on that which mattered to him the most — his wife, Cheryl, his precious daughters, Susie and Abby, his alma mater and place of employment for 44 of his remarkable 47 years teaching, and, of course, his hometown of St. Marys.
In my earliest years of teaching, when I arrived in St. Marys in 1978 with just five years under my belt and still with so very much to learn, both about the subject matter and the art of teaching, I relied heavily on Buz, someone proficient both in the mechanics of the language and, especially, in the rich literary heritage of American and English literature.
In many ways, older teachers such as Buz and the greatest grammarian I would ever meet, Zula McIntosh, helped me become the teacher I wanted to be, and such steady influences will be remembered by this writer in perpetuity until he takes his own final mortal steps.
I can say without equivocation that there was no one, anywhere, who loved his hometown more than Buz. The 1961 Memorial graduate, born on St. Marys’ South Wayne Street in 1943, combined his love of the language with his deep and abiding affection for St. Marys following his retirement from education by writing about his area’s history, with all of the proceeds going to the Heartfelt Fund, which helps St. Marys families affected, as his was, by a heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, like so many medical terms, a condition as scary as it sounds.
His literary works that told the tales of his hometown — a place known in part for Roughrider football, the vagabond-pugilistic author Jim Tully and that St. Marys-born John Dillinger cohort, Fat Charlie Makley — are wonderfully formatted. While many of the stories were written by him, he also, at times, used the works of local authors as well.
In 2015, I was honored to provide him the feature I did for The Lima News on Galen Cisco for inclusion in his book, “The St, Marys Anthology, More Tales and Sketches from an American Small Town.”
For Buz, the tales of his American small town mattered so very greatly. He was a prototypical small-town guy, who, unlike so many young people of today who leave their small towns to seek adventure in larger cities, never felt that urge.
Yes, for Robert “Buz” Howard, who loved to travel and see how others lived beyond the borders of Auglaize County, there was always comfort in the knowledge that those same roads that took him away to show him what lay beyond his patch of real estate would also be the conduits that would lead him back to where his heart never left, home.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.