Boots Howell remembered as storyteller, musician, inventor
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 6:00 PM
Gerald Allen “Boots” Howell was remembered this week as a great storyteller, musician and inventor and for his stance against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s.
Services for Howell, 94, will be Saturday at 4 p.m. from St. Francis Episcopal Church, which he was instrumental in establishing in 1964.
The Rev. Hugh Jones will officiate. Visitation will be one hour prior to services at the church.
Howell died Sunday in his home following an extended illness.
He was born Aug. 21, 1922, in Philadelphia. He graduated from Philadelphia High School in 1940, where he lettered in football, boxing and track. He played French horn in the band and trumpet in the school’s orchestra.
He received a Bachelor of Science from Mississippi State University in 1944 where he lettered for three years as a high jumper. He was a U. S. Army First Lieutenant from 1944 to 1946.
Howell co-owned B. L. Howell and Sons Construction Company and built many buildings in and around the state, including Conner Hall at the University of Mississippi, Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University, St. Francis Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and Five Flags Inn Motel in Pensacola, Fla.
He was also construction manager for Hyde Brothers Lumber Company in Clarksdale, project manager for Chahta Construction Company in Choctaw and project estimator for McLain Plumbing.
In the 1950s, Werner von Braun approached him to work for NASA at their aeronautic space center in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
David Howell said his father was a builder whose life was filled with many accomplishments and successes.
“He was a wonderful father, full of laughter, music and fun and a devoted and loving husband to my mother,” he said.
“His many stories and his vast knowledge will be missed by all who knew him. He made so many friends over his lifetime.”
Mark Howell said his father was a force for such good in the world.
“He and his dad and brothers started the first public band in town,” Howell recalled. “He was a son of the New Deal. He married an experimental artist, he built things, he fought the klan in Mississippi and did more things than I could ever remember.”
Boots Howell was on the Board of Directors for the Neshoba County Fair Association from 1967 to 2000. He was the master of ceremonies for performance programs for much of that time and was the Fair’s talent scout and booking agent from 1967 to 1975.
He was known for his impersonation of former Fair Association President Jim Hillman.
In more recent years, he entertained Fairgoers as “Mr. Hillman” during Hometown Proud day as well as at numerous cabin parties.
Also at the Fair, Howell and his brother Ray Howell often played the trumpet at what began as an impromptu jazz festival in Happy Hollow.
Howell was also known for his involvement in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
The Howells’ home was an oasis for the media and FBI in 1964 after civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were reported missing on June 21, 1964.
Howell and his wife Millie befriended several FBI agents after they questioned them about any unusual happenings they might have observed the night of the murders.
Some of the positive actions he took are recorded in two books, “Witness in Philadelphia,” by Florence Mars, and “We Are Not Afraid,” by Seth Cagin and Philip Dray.
Howell was also an avid amateur inventor and two of his many passions include the life and work of Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current, and the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Howell is survived by his wife, Millicent Merritt Howell; sons, Mark Harold Howell, David Tucker Howell and John Gerald Howell; daughter, Shawn Elizabeth Howell Byars; and grandsons; Casey Byars and Cassidy Byars.
Memorials can be made to St. Francis Episcopal Church.