Ninety years ago today, January 28, 1932, Dr. Howe passed away in his residence, now Howe House, at Belmont Hill, two days after suffering a severe heart attack.

Henry Sawyer, later a faculty member for over 50 years, was then in the senior class. As he recounted at the time of the School’s 50th anniversary (Duncan, p. 52):*

The day that Mr. Morse announced to us at lunch that Dr. Howe had died was one I will never forget. It was somewhat analogous to the news of the death of John Kennedy to a more recent school body. I don’t think many of us knew that Dr. Howe was sick enough to be near death. Somehow we finished that meal in stunned silence, wondering how his son and our friend , Dick, would take this shock. That afternoon the boarders spent reading quietly in their rooms or walking someplace.

The medical progression of Dr. Howe’s illness is described in a letter dated January 29, 1932, from his personal physician, Dr. Charles H. Lawrence, to Dr. George C. Shattuck, Dr. Howe’s Harvard 1901 classmate, best friend, and Dick Howe’s godfather, hence Uncle George to the Howe family. After Dr. Howe’s death, Uncle George paid off the mortgage on 49 Tyler Road, facilitating the conversion of the back wing, originally a dormitory, into a home for Dick and his mother.

Dr. Shattuck, for many years a professor at Harvard Medical School, was a pioneer in the field of tropical medicine ( The story may be apocryphal, perhaps invented for the entertainment of his godson, but Dick Howe always recounted it as absolutely true. On returning from a trip to administer to natives in a foreign land, Uncle George reported that while being escorted in single-file down a jungle trail by a band of local warriors, he at one point turned around to find himself face-to-face with a native holding his spear high as if planning to thrust it into the good doctor’s back. Happily the incident passed and Uncle George lived to tell the tale, true or not.

Another of Dr. Howe’s Harvard classmates, Rev. Dr. Samuel S. Drury, legendary Rector of St. Paul’s School, wrote the obituary that appeared in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin (Feb. 19, 1932):

Few men have entered more vitally into various useful endeavors than did Heber Howe.Members of 1901 will be indeed saddened to learn that this beloved and structural member of the community was suddenly taken off by angina pectoris after two days’ illness. In the midst of life he gave up his life—surrounded by friends of all ages, controlling a maze of duties, and looking forward to larger tasks.

First we knew him as a lover of the woods. His studies in bird life and his publications therein; his specialization in the field of lichens; his assiduous researches abroad, all contributed to his authoritative standing as a humanist in the realm of nature.

Then we knew him as ardent sportsman. His experiences as cox did not terminate in that capacity. Characteristically, his restless energy carried him here into another field of authority. He was the trusted and beloved coach of many a school and college crew, becoming at length director of rowing at Harvard.

Heber’s career was crowned by the founding of Belmont Hill School. After twenty years of effective mastership at Middlesex, he struck out for himself, and in September, 1923, began the work which for nine years grew under his wisely stimulating grasp. As naturalist, as sportsman, as educator, Heber Howe brought colorful conviction to whatever task he essayed.

If pupils are biographers, a tale of sympathetic appreciation summarized Heber’s career. What a funeral! What an outpouring of mute boyish sadness and grateful parenthood! The Church of Our Savior, where Heber’s father had long been rector, was crowded with a hushed throng of venerating classmates, associates, and disciples. To his life they paid their final tribute on Saturday, January 30. Da ei requiem aeternam, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat in eum.

*Roger F. Duncan, The Story of Belmont Hill School, 1923-1973 (Thomas Todd, 1973).