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Patricia W. & J. Douglas Perry Library
The Papers of Henry Evans Howell, Jr.
Henry Evans Howell, Jr. (1920-1997) lawyer, politician, and activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia on September 5, 1920. His father was a lumber salesman; his mother, Susan Creekmur Howell, came from Deep Creek in old Norfolk County in what is today Chesapeake, Virginia. He married Elizabeth McCarty of Portsmouth, who served 18 years on the Norfolk City Council until her retirement in 1992. The marriage produced three children: Mary E. Howell of Norfolk, Susan H. Howell of Portsmouth, and Henry E. Howell III of Virginia Beach.
Howell graduated from Maury High School in 1938 and studied at the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary (now Old Dominion University) for two years until transferring to the University of Virginia. He studied a year at the University and then entered its law school, graduating in 1943 with an LL.B.
He first practiced law in West Palm Beach, Florida, but returned to Norfolk after several years and served as a law clerk to Federal District Judge Sterling Hutcheson, then to Federal Judge Albert V. Byran. In 1948, Howell became associated with R. Arthur Jett, with whom he formed the law firm of Jett, Sykes and Howell in 1950. He formed a new firm - Howell, Anninos, and Daugherty (later Howell, Anninos, Daugherty, and Brown) - in 1959. Howell specialized in admiralty and tort law.
His first involvement in politics came in 1949 during Colonel Francis Pickens Miller's unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor. While walking by Miller-for-Governor headquarters on Granby Street, a friend asked Howell to work for Miller in his campaign against John Battle, the Byrd Organization choice for Governor. He recalled asking why, at which time the friend produced an article on the Byrd Machine which, recalled Howell, described "a rather monolithic, selective political process." In 1952, Howell served as co-manager in Norfolk for Miller's unsuccessful primary battle against Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. and, in 1956, he directed the "Volunteers for Stevenson-Kefauver" in Norfolk.
In 1953, Howell first ran for political office when he was an unsuccessful candidate in the Democratic primary for one of Norfolk's seats in the House of Delegates. His subsequent campaigns which made him one of the best known political figures in Virginia brought him his share of notable victories and bitter disappointments. His successes included election as a Democrat to the House of Delegates in 1959 and 1963 and to the State Senate in 1965 and 1967, election to the Lieutenant Governor's office in 1971 as an independent, and his victory over Andrew Pickens Miller for the Democratic nomination in 1977. Howell's disappointments included a narrow loss for renomination in the 1961 Democratic primary in Norfolk, a loss to William C. Battle by less than 2% of the votes for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1969, a slender loss in 1973 when he ran for Governor as an independent against Republican Mills Godwin, and a third unsuccessful attempt for Governor against Republican John Dalton in 1977. Many analysts interpreted this last defeat as a referendum on Howell himself. Despite the landslide defeat in 1977 against John Dalton, Howell remained prominent in Virginia Democratic party affairs and strongly supported Jimmy Carter for reelection in 1980.
Howell had always been a maverick in terms of traditional Virginia politics - a liberal in a staunchly conservative state, pro-labor in a state which strongly favors right-to-work laws, a representative of an urbanized, industrialized district in a state legislature long dominated by politicians from rural areas. His survival as a viable political figure under these circumstances seemed attributable to his avowed stance as a "populist," a champion of the ordinary citizen against the big economic interests and their political allies. One of his key slogans was "Keep the Big Boys Honest!" Despite Howell's political setbacks and never winning the office he coveted the most, he enjoyed success against the vested interests of Virginia in the courts, both state and federal. Howell would often take a case to court as a volunteer lawyer without pay to fight what he deemed an injustice. He brought successful suits against the state on the poll tax (which he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court), the appropriation of federal impact funds designed to go to various localities in Virginia, and the state's failure to give urban districts their due representation in the Virginia General Assembly. Howell also frequently appeared as a spokesman for consumers before the State Corporation Commission (S.C.C.) to oppose rate increases requested by public utilities and insurance companies. Howell quipped that the initials for the Virginia Electric and Power Co., VEPCO, stood for Very Expensive Power Company. In a number of cases he went on to file suits that eventually overthrew unfavorable S.C.C. rulings.
In addition to his political and legal career, Howell served on the Old Dominion University Board of Visitors and taught Sunday School at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Norfolk. On July 7, 1997, after decades of fighting to "Keep the Big Boys Honest" and for the rights of the common person, Henry Evans Howell, Jr., in the company of his family, passed away from cancer.
The Howell archives deal primarily with his career in politics, first in Norfolk and, after 1968, on the statewide level. The papers of Howell constitute the largest collection in the Special Collections Department of Old Dominion University and document his personal, political, legislative, and legal activities from 1948 through 1977. Political papers deal with his activities, first in Norfolk, Virginia, and, after 1968, on the statewide level in political campaigns and Democratic party affairs. Bulk of material consists of campaign material, including correspondence, newspaper clippings, pictorial and sound records, file cards, and speeches, from his own campaigns for office, especially those for Governor in 1969, 1973, and 1977, and for Lt. Governor in 1971. Legislative papers include correspondence and reference material relating to his activities as a Delegate and State Senator. Legal papers consist largely of briefs and correspondence pertaining to lawsuits regarding the poll tax, legislative reapportionment, and the use of federal impact funds. Of note are the State Corporation Commission hearings and related court suits regarding requests for rate increases by public utilities and insurance companies. The archives are documented by an extensive inventory list located in Special Collections.