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She lived a life of charity, modesty

Margaret Howell was talented and generous - and so modest she never told her family when she won the Woman of Distinction award.

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 9, 2002

Margaret Howell

* * *

BALLAST POINT -- Margaret Elizabeth Howell was destined to live a life devoted to her church.

From the time she was born, her parents' Sunday School class at Tampa Heights Presbyterian Church shaped her life forever.

"She was the first little girl born in her parents' Sunday School class, and my dad was the first little boy born," said Mrs. Howell's daughter, Jeanne Rowe. "They were the first babies born, one girl and one boy. And they grew up together, and the families were friends for years."

Mrs. Howell, the wife of former Circuit Judge Oscar D. Howell and a longtime volunteer for her church and Hillsborough County schools, died Aug. 2 at the age of 88.

Her life was guided by a few simple principles, said lifelong friend Mildred Geer.

"First, you want to be a contributing member of society, particularly in your own community and your own church," Geer said. "That's just the way it is when you're Christian. You want to do for other people and other things.

"When you're in a small church, everybody does everything. She had a lot of good helpers, but she did a lot."

Mrs. Howell was born in Tampa and attended Hillsborough High School. She and her husband were close friends since birth, and in 1940 they married.

When Howell was overseas during World War II, Mrs. Howell worked as a reporter for the Tampa Times, using her husband's letters to write personal accounts of what was happening to soldiers abroad.

When Howell returned home and the couple began having children, Mrs. Howell became much more active in her church.

A woman of many talents -- she played the piano and french horn, painted china, made ceramics and sewed -- she often sang for her church's congregation. Rowe laughs when telling a story about her mother's vocal prowess.

"She was singing a solo at Tampa Heights, standing by the piano, and brought the house down," she said. "Because when she hit the final note, the ceiling fell down, literally. It was just a coincidence, but she brought the house down. The ceiling fell down on the piano."

At Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, Mrs. Howell was one of the first female elders of the church, as well as a 25-year member of the Bell Choir and a puppeteer in the church's "Puppeterian" group.

"They went to hospitals and nursing homes and cheered up the children and the elderly," Rowe said. "They even learned how to make professional puppets."

In 1987, the Howells went with other members of their church on a mission trip to Mexico to volunteer at a school for children with Down's Syndrome.

"Mama was just there for anybody that needed help, no matter if you're right here next door or in another country," Rowe said. "She was just there to help them however she could."

During this time, she was also very active in the education of her three children. She was president of both the Mitchell Elementary School PTA and the Hillsborough County PTA, and she was involved with the Wilson Middle School and Plant High School PTAs as well.

For her civic and community involvement -- which included work with groups such as the Salvation Army, the Girl Scouts and the Hillsborough County Bar Association -- she was featured in a book titled Florida Women of Distinction.

She was such a private woman, though, that not even her children knew all of her accomplishments.

Whenever she received accolades from any civic group, Rowe said, "she never talked about it."

"The only way I found out that she won the Woman of Distinction award, I was going through some of her books and I found the award."

Her husband died shortly after their 50th wedding anniversary in 1991, but Howell maintained her active life in the church.

"Her faith was her life," Rowe said.

"For the service, it was very easy for the minister, because Mama kept a notebook of all her favorite scriptures. So we just handed the notebook to the minister, and he was able to go through that and use the scriptures."

Mrs. Howell was preceded in death by her husband, O.D., and a sister, Ruth Weber Lewis. In addition to Rowe, her survivors include a son, Dr. Robert S. Howell, and Robert's wife, Donna, of Aiken, S.C.; another daughter, Peggy Smith and her husband, Clint Smith; Rowe's husband, Vernon Rowe; a brother, Howard Weber, of Sarasota; a sister-in-law, Mary Nelle Kovach; six grandchildren, Scott Smith, Wade Smith and his wife, Audrey, Aaron and Corey Howell, and Shane and Jennalee Rowe; a great-grandson, Kaide Howell; and a niece and seven nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that a donation be made to the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church Bell Choir, PCPC Preschool Scholarship Fund or the Alzheimer's Association for Research.

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