James Burton Howell

Dr. James Burton Howell of West Bridgewater, MA died peacefully at home on July 4, 2023 with his family at his side. His wife Marlene preceded him in death last year and he was also predeceased by his grandchildren Lydia (Ann) and Kyle (Jim). He is survived by his children Ann (Keith), Jim (Sabrina), Katherine (Gary), and Andrew; and grandchildren Katherine, Sophia, and Matthew.

Born in Lancaster, PA on January 20, 1938, Jim was brought up in Lititz, PA by his parents Burton and Betty and alongside his siblings John, Vicky, and Libby. He had the good fortune to marry his childhood sweetheart Marlene (née Adams) shortly after he finished his joint undergraduate degrees at Moravian College (B.Sc) and the University of Pennsylvania (B. Chem. Eng.) in 1960. This strong partnership served as the backbone to a life that lasted 61 years together. They started off in New York City, where Jim completed a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. Upon graduation, he had a tempting job offer from a large food manufacturing company, but ultimately decided that he wanted to go into medicine. He got a full scholarship to Boston University and Jim and Marlene made Boston their home for the next 10 years, apart from a brief stint in London where Jim had a medical internship. It was in London that they both developed a taste for hot spices, introduced to them by an Indian friend. (This predilection would follow Jim for the rest of his life, with a few home-grown dried hot peppers always stuffed in his suit jacket pocket to spice up meals at the hospital.)

While at medical school, he formed strong friendships with fellow classmates, many of which persisted throughout his life. He also found a passion for his specialty, otolaryngology. Once his medical residency was near an end, another important aspect of his life began when he and Marlene adopted their first child, Ann, and they started their journey as parents. Shortly after they brought Ann home, Jim was heard turning down an invitation to go out on the town saying, “I have a new calling now.” And he was a dedicated parent ever since, spending almost all of his free time with his four children. He coached their soccer and Little League teams, took them everywhere he went (it was not at all unusual to see a Howell child hanging around in the doctors’ lounge at the Cardinal Cushing waiting for their dad to be finished with rounds), and spent hours teaching them about everything from fishing to gardening to astronomy.

Although family was a focal point, he also built a successful career in head and neck medicine, being a founding member of ENT Specialists in Brockton where he worked for over 25 years. His motto was: “Everything you do in medicine needs to have a purpose”. After retiring from his practice, he continued to serve the medical community by donating his services to East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and teaching residents at BU medical school.

To round out an already full life, Jim was active in his local town of West Bridgewater, serving as Health Inspector for many years, and had many hobbies including: canoeing, European travel, basket weaving, cider pressing, mushroom hunting, woodworking, watercoloring, and the list goes on. He was incredibly knowledgeable about many subjects, especially where to find the best clams in southeastern Mass. He and Marlene kept a hobby farm at their home, raising sheep, horses, and ducks, and tending a large vegetable patch. They were very proud of their homegrown produce and any visitors in the summer were unlikely to walk away without a bag of squash, corn, and eggplants.

James Howell was a man with a strong personality, a sly sense of humor, and a warm heart. He loved people, especially children and anyone who would talk to him about baseball or politics (he was remarkably left of center for someone of his generation). He will live on in the many, many stories that he told over the years, most of them with a punchline that had him laughing before he delivered it. We will try to remember as many of them as possible when we celebrate his life on Saturday, July 15 at 3:00 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 325 W Elm St, Brockton, followed by a reception at the family home on Howard Street in West Bridgewater (4:30 pm onwards). Donations can be made in his honor to Heifer International (www.heifer.org/give/giving-in-honor.html).


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