Baines: A tribute to a wonderful colleague

Pete was all Western.

Upon beginning his studies as an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts and Science in 1946, Walter Colston (Pete) Howell began an association with The University of Western Ontario that would last more than six decades.

After completion of his MSc in 1951, Pete went to the University of Saskatchewan for pre-doctoral studies before returning to Western to complete his PhD in 1955 under the supervision of the late professor Fred Pattison. After postdoctoral studies at the University of Nottingham, he returned to take up a position of lecturer.

For many years, Pete taught ‘orgo,’ introductory organic chemistry, to countless students. He was well known for ‘Howell’s towels,’ the use of towels to absorb and recover spilled reaction mixtures on a lab bench.

Pete’s greatest contributions were made as an administrator, first in the Department of Chemistry assisting the then-department head Andy Scott. Clearly, Pete impressed, because when Scott moved to the faculty office as dean, he enticed Pete to be assistant dean.

Pete was heavily involved in Senate during its formative years. He was one of a small group of faculty who made possible the implementation of the UWO Acts of 1967 and 1974. He was a key player during the integration of the (then) London Teacher’s College into the framework of the academy, and was a long-term Chair of the Senate Committee on Admissions and Academic Program Policy, one of the senior standing committees of Senate. There, he was well-known for his imaginative leadership and for keeping the members focused and on task.

Letters in his file spoke to “his energy, drive and enthusiasm; his thorough and logical approach to problems; his clean and skilful technique,” “his commonsense, dedication and integrity” – qualities I knew and respected in Pete when I worked with him almost 20 years later.

After retirement in 1994, Pete continued to enjoy life, traveling the world with his wife, Dr. Helene Polatakjo. Curling, hockey and golf were lifelong activities for Pete, which continued in retirement.

Up to three days before his death, he was active as a member of the Huff and Puff Hockey league. He was a welcomed member at departmental functions where we enjoyed many laughs.

Pete will be remembered for his dedication to the university, his love of life and his respect for his colleagues. He is survived by his wife, four children and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He will be sadly missed by all and forever fondly remembered.

To commemorate Pete’s convivial spirit, the Department of Chemistry would like to install a picnic bench, in the shape of a periodic table, on campus. If you would like to make a donation toward the bench in Pete’s memory, please contact Donna Swanson at Foundation Western at 519-661-3140.

Kim Baines