Those who knew Bill Howell, PhD, say they will never forget him, not just for his tenacious work on behalf of psychology, but for his earnest, endearing personality.
"Bill was a strong positive force for psychology for many years," says Washington University in St. Louis professor Roddy Roediger, PhD, a colleague from Howell's 24-year tenure at Rice University. "He had good judgment and a warm wit. Bill's blue eyes reminded me of Paul Newman's — very expressive. He could give that cold hard stare or that warm twinkle, as the occasion demanded."
Those who have worked with him say Howell defined leadership. He was a highly accomplished scholar, manager and overall trailblazer, yet was always modest and consistently praised others. He worked relentlessly to infuse science into all of APA's efforts, yet had a deep respect for every area of psychology. He was gracious and amiable, but never timid about expressing his frustrations when he thought APA or its leaders were veering off track.
Howell's magnetic and straightforward style shined through all of his work at APA over more than 30 years, whether it was serving as APA's executive director for science from 1992 to 1998, as a member of APA's Council of Representatives, or on numerous association committees including the Publications and Communications Board, Finance Committee, Board of Professional Affairs, Board of Convention Affairs and the APF Board of Trustees, to name just a few. Howell was also a fellow of four APA divisions.
His many accomplishments were the reasons the association selected Howell for its 2012 Raymond D. Fowler Award for Outstanding Contributions to APA. Howell received the award in March, just before his death on April 14 after a long illness.
The Fowler award — named for former APA CEO Raymond D. Fowler, PhD — recognizes psychologists who are dedicated to advancing APA's mission, who build consensus among the association's constituents and who make contributions that have a significant and enduring impact.
"Bill Howell established a remarkable legacy as a scholar, department chair, university citizen and a major guiding influence within the American Psychological Association," says Richard C. McCarty, PhD, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at Vanderbilt University. "He was a role model for many, including me …. The award is a fitting tribute to an amazingly generous ambassador for our discipline."
When asked shortly before his death what drove him to work so hard for APA, Howell responded in his typically self-deprecating way: "I'm afraid my career was kind of a combination of Forrest Gump and evolving interest factors and opportunities rather than some grand plan," he said.
But he was quick to add, "The question I always asked myself was: Can I make a difference here? Very simply, since the late '70s, I always asked myself the same question — and when the answer was ‘yes,' I gave it my best shot. I realized early that the key to any success I might realize always depended on empowering folks who knew a lot more than I did, and getting them reading from the same page. Apparently I wasn't too bad at it, but the credit in my mind always belonged to the folks who got it done. I always felt most comfortable working beneath the radar."
Despite his accomplishments, he said, there's still much work to be done on behalf of APA and psychology. "My long-standing belief has been that psychology, along with its sister behavioral and social sciences, has huge potential for helping address society's growing list of serious problems at both the micro and macro levels, if only it could broaden and sell its public image and get the research support it deserves," he said.
THE WILLIAM C. HOWELL SCHOLARSHIP
In recognition of Bill Howell's many contributions to psychology, colleagues and friends nationwide have established a graduate scholarship at the American Psychological Foundation. The program furthers Howell's commitment to supporting graduate students and early career psychologists.
"The scholarship is a tribute to Bill and to his lifelong commitment to ensuring the future of psychology," says Dorothy W. Cantor, PsyD, APF President.
For information on how to contribute, visit the APF website or contact Kimberly Rowsome.