Opinion » Editorial

Babe Howard



W.S. "Babe" Howard, who died July 11th at the age of 82, was one of Shelby County's first citizens, though his name never became a household word in the way of numerous public figures whose contributions to the public weal weren't nearly as significant. For one thing, Howard's base of operations was in Millington. For another thing, he was famous for not craving fame, notoriety, or any variant thereof.

But be assured: Anyone who was in political life — especially Democrats, to whose political party he was eternally loyal, in bad local times and good — knew who Babe Howard was. Many of them came calling at election time, in recognition of the fact that he was a famously dependable donor to political campaigns he deemed deserving. The last part of that sentence is the operative one: "he deemed deserving," for Howard could say no as well as yes, and he was as discriminating in his judgments as he was generous. And in the post-Watergate age of limited personal contributions, he was a point of reference for other conscientious donors.

Howard was best known to Millingtonians as the owner and proprietor of the city's telephone company and often as the hands-on person to oversee a service problem. To non-Millingtonians who happened to be baseball fans, as well as partisans of international détente, Howard was the man who built a stadium that not only became an Olympics venue but, in the twilight of the Cold War, attracted a Soviet baseball team for a much-attended series of exhibitions.

The nickname "Babe" was appro-priate for an all-purpose philanthropist who restored monuments of the past and created new ones for the future and stood on no ceremony whatsoever. The moniker happened incidentally to connote his diminutive stature, but never at any point did anyone who knew Babe Howard or had even heard of him doubt that he was a very large man indeed.

And, in the oft-used phrase that might have been invented for him, he will be missed.

The Energy Debate

The bad news, accentuated by President Bush's initiative this week to permit renewed offshore drilling, is that politics is still being played with the issue of national energy policy. Aside from the legitimate differences between the two major political parties, both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are now festooning their official positions with recommendations and proposed legislation designed as much to put the partisan opposition in a bad light as to advance the nation's needs.

The good news is that, while Democrats adhere more closely to environmental precepts and Republicans hew more to the notion of new product at all costs, both parties are now giving lip service at least to the need to move away from traditional fossil fuels and to develop alternative sources of energy. These run the gamut from "clean-coal" technology to solar energy to new life for the moribund nuclear option. And therein lies much more impassioned debate to come. But to recall a phrase, it's better than to curse the darkness.

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