James Merriam Howard III

James Merriam Howard III

Died December 12, 2004

You need only read his 25th reunion essay in 1990 to understand that Jerry Howard was a free spirit who embraced life, indeed, shook it by the throat, asking often what it all meant and wondering if he would ever settle down. Jerry found some answers through his photographer’s eye and his journalistic inquisitiveness. He was engaged with his subjects – a talented photographer, writer and editor.

An excerpt from his obituary in the Boston Herald reads, “Mr. Howard was a photographer and writer who explored relationships between people and places for over three decades. As a journalist, essayist and editor he covered garden design and landscape architecture, the evolution of zoological parks and garden cemeteries, the greenway and urban movements, suburban land use and the politics of saving endangered species.”

Jerry entered Yale from the Wooster School in Connecticut. His father, James M. Howard, Jr., was a member of the Yale Class of 1943 and his grandfather, Charles Seymour (Y ’08) was President of Yale from 1937 to 1950.

Jerry was a member of Trumbull College, majored in English and participated in a number of intramural sports. After graduation, he earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. In 1978, he was awarded a B.A. in fine arts from the Massachusetts School of Art.

From 1967-1969, Jerry served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a Navy lieutenant with Underwater Demolition Team 12 and received a Purple Heart. “Between firefights on the Mekong, read Ken Kesey and Alan Watts,” Jerry wrote. “Between tours, did mescaline in the desert and acid in Monterey with my Chief Petty Officer.”

After Vietnam, Jerry said, “I did depression, therapy, marriage…then Armageddon.” He and his first wife were divorced. He remarried, had two daughters, and worked hard.

During the 1970s, Jerry was editor of the Weston/Weyland Town Crier, then founding editor of the Whole Life Times in Boston (1979-1980). In 1980, he and his wife founded Positive Images, providing stock photography to the publishing industry.

Jerry did free-lance work throughout his career, with the longest stint for Sanctuary Magazine published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. He wrote of the challenges that face all free-lancers and self-employed journalists: ”Every day we must motivate ourselves. Some mornings, I beg to be told what to do. I crave peers, mentors, students. I mope, empty garbage, read classifieds. Then the phone rings, and I’m on task again.”

Anticipating the second half of life, Jerry wrote of looking forward to perhaps returning to the workplace or teaching, to ”More community, more time for people, more reading….Making a difference with less stress… Cultivating my gardens… beating outlandishly on conga drums, making love to my wife and to life until flesh withers on bones. As long as there are mornings… I’ll give thanks. After that, God knows.”

Jerry’s life journey ended December 12, 2004 in Limerick, Ireland, where he died after a brief illness. He is survived by his former wife, Margaret Bradley, his daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, and his partner Gail Johnston.

Roger Rice remembers: One weekend Jerry Howard and I snuck into Woolsey Hall through a rear door for a Fats Domino, Bo Diddley concert. For the next two hours we hung out backstage with the musicians and flattered ourselves that we had gotten to know Fats and Bo although clearly they made a much bigger impression on us than we on them. That’s how it went with Jerry, roommate for three years, friend for years afterward. The guy was enthusiastic and ready for whatever with, in his words, “a shit eating grin” on his face. Then came graduation. I went to law school, Jerry became a SEAL and did multiple tours in Viet Nam coming home with multiple Purple Hearts. I was an antiwar protestor. He hated the war even more than I did and although he taught me about the special bond he had with his fellow SEALS, he was unsparing in his disgust with the upper brass. He wrote at one point “this is such a beautiful country, why have they sent us here to destroy it?”

Jerry was a guy who could do a bunch of things. He basically rebuilt an old New England farmhouse with his own hands. He took incredible photos that captured the world through his writer’s eye. And he was willing to give up a lung in a tragically unsuccessful attempt to save his cousin Charley Seymour when that became necessary.

Many years later Jerry called to say hey! Bo was back, doing another concert and we needed to go. So we went and acted like we were college kids hanging out with Bo who paid us no more mind than he had 30 years earlier. “If that private eye can’t see” sang Bo. But Jerry saw it all and spoke his truth about it. Hey, Jerry.