Howell honoured in most elemental way

Earlier this month, family, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life and work of Western Chemistry professor Walter (Pete) Howell with a memorial which turned out to be an enlightening display of affection.

From his initiation as a Western Science freshman in 1946 to serving as a professor and senior administrator, Howell was affiliated with the university for 65 years, save for three years (including two years of postdoctoral studies at the University of Nottingham).

To commemorate his contributions to the university, the Chemistry Department built a picnic-style bench featuring a colourful periodic table.


Department Chair Kim Baines said Howell “loved to talk to people, to sit down and chat to provide advice, to listen to people.” She credited Mel Usselman with the idea for the memorial piece.

John Vanstone, John Aukema and Jeff Cassidy from Chemistry’s Electronics Shop designed the table. The table contains an array of LEDs underneath the tiles to make it glow. Each individual element tile took a laser printer five hours to fabricate. Chemists have a tradition of referring to each other by three initials and the table has carried on the custom, highlighting the elements WCH. This unique piece will remain as a permanent installation in the MSA Atrium.

Howell’s youngest son, Fraser, was touched by the gesture.  “I thought that it was fitting tribute to my father” he said.

As a Chemistry professor, Howell was known for his down-to-earth approach and willingness to engage in active listening with his students, graduate and undergraduate alike. This made learning organic chemistry less intimidating and research studies more productive.

Howell contributed leadership and strong governance at Western first as assistant dean of Science and eventually as a formative member of the university Senate where he served as secretary. His wisdom and imagination served the organization well, making it possible to implement the University of Western Ontario Acts of 1967 and 1974. After his retirement in 1994, he continued to attended departmental functions and was actively involved with Western until his death in 2011.