On February 21, 2017, Rappahannock Community College (RCC) saw the passing of Dr. Norman “Norm” Manwaring Howe, one of its most beloved professors. The RCC community remembers Dr. Howe for his many years of service and dedication to the College and its students, and his family remembers him as a loving and committed father.
Dr. Howe was educated in Massachusetts at Avon Old Farms Preparatory and Worchester Technical College. He was commissioned into the Army Signal Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant. He earned a doctorate in chemistry and worked for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, DuPont Chemical, at various colleges, and came to Rappahannock Community College in 1984 where he would remain until his retirement in 2004.
Dr. Howe made an impact not only in the quality of the academic courses taught in RCC’s chemistry and math labs but also in the lives of his students and fellow instructors.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor,” says Professor Charles Crook, who took over Dr. Howe’s position after his retirement. “He was my mentor, my colleague, and eventually became my friend as we worked together.”
Crook says of his and Dr. Howe’s approach to science, “We liked to let the students have a chance to explore, maybe make a mistake or two because you learn from them.”
“If you’d go in the class after [it] was finished, and there were one or two students in there with questions, he would still be on the board … he would spend however much time students needed,” says Crook.
“His ability to teach was known throughout several counties,” says son, John Press. “He was the world’s best tutor. I wouldn’t have gotten through organic chemistry without him. His approach to teaching was one that I [have] tried to emulate in my optometrist practice.”
“Over the years when I’ve been out in the community with my parents, there is always a former student they would run into. The former student would comment on how my father helped them through a class,” his daughter Diane Clark says.
“He would have taken the time [to] tutor them at school or the house, and he always was able to simplify so the student understood the material,” says Clark.
Dr. Howe was recognized for his excellence in teaching and dedication to his students and received awards and honors, including the status of faculty emeritus.
Outside of the RCC classroom, Dr. Howe volunteered at women’s shelters, taught courses for community groups, and also served as the President of the RCC Educational Foundation Board, for which he was also recognized in 2016 for his service and commitment. In 2004 at Dr. Howe’s retirement, his family established a perpetual endowed scholarship fund in his name that will assist scores of future RCC students in receiving a college education.
“Norm had incredible energy and rolled up his sleeves to help RCC while he was on the Educational Foundation Board,” says Dr. Elizabeth Crowther, President of Rappahannock Community College. “He served as the Board Treasurer, as well as its President, and played an active volunteer role in the Foundation’s Preakness Party annual fundraiser. He was not only my colleague but also my cherished friend.”
Dr. Howe was also a committed husband and stepfather, marrying his wife Gerry, who was widowed with five young children, in 1971.
“Marrying my mother with five children, ages 8-16, speaks a lot to his character,” says Clark. “He was patient, understanding, creative, MacGyver-like, and able to communicate information to the youngest of children.”
Norm and Ethel Howe encouraged the children to have an active role in two home renovation projects, which helped to strengthen their family bond.
“He just loved us as his own from the start. So that’s probably the biggest memory as to what kind of man he was to marry my mother,” his daughter, Marlene Shear, continues.
Dr. Howe connected with his five stepchildren by getting to know their passions.
Daughter Debbie Miller says, “I remember my Dad reading Sports Illustrated so he could converse with my brother about sports because Norm never played any sports … but he began reading Sports Illustrated so he could have a connection point with my brother.”
His legacy of patience to help guide students along their educational paths will be best known by his children, grandchildren, peers, students, and anyone he has every impacted with his passion in life.
As his daughter, Patti Phelps says, “He could’ve done anything in the corporate or academic world, but he chose to share his gift for teaching with those in his immediate community and the community college system.” — Mary Ashley Cline