In Memorium for William A.H. Howland

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William "Bill" Anthony Hoppin Howland died of natural causes on Monday, Oct. 3, 2005, in Moorestown, N.J., at the age of 92.  Born in Asheville, N.C., on Aug. 5, 1913, he was the proud son of Reginald Howland and Frances Theobald Howland. Bill was a graduate of Kent School in Connecticut and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD., class of 1937. He served as a lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy until 1941. He retired to Asheville from American Airlines in 1973 after 32 years of service as a pilot based in New York. He received his masters in education and taught mathematics for New York and North Carolina schools. After retirement he volunteered and tutored inmates earning their G.E.D. He was an avid golfer and longtime member of Biltmore Forest Country Club.

Susan_and_Bill_small.jpgWords from Susan Howland about Bringing Back Bill

There was a great secret – some mystery that he feared would die with him if he didn’t figure it out soon.  My dad had just turned 90, and for the past year he’d been alluding to this mystery concerning two brothers – calling me almost daily and asking me to travel from New Jersey to his home in Asheville, NC to look for clues…in a graveyard.

Our family became concerned over dad’s behavior… thinking he might be fading mentally or suffering from dementia.  We didn’t know what was driving dad; didn’t know how the “two brothers” were an integral part of his family’s past and story.  Then one day he casually asked me, “Do you realize who my true father is?  It’s not Stanley (the man we all believed was his father).  My father is actually the man I knew all my life as my Uncle Rex (Stanley’s brother).”

Then the quest began in earnest.  Dad and I went to Asheville and found Rex’s grave.  We learned a lot about him from Asheville School and from old newspapers in the local library.  Rex had left old family pictures and books to dad and we poured over these looking for verification.  Once we felt confident that Rex was truly dad’s father, we went back and changed the family genealogy records to reflect William A. H. Howland, my dad’s, true parentage/lineage. 

It was now early 2004 and our discovery was proving overwhelming for both of us.  I contacted my friend, Dr. David Grand, who specializes in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), to see if he could help us.  David was utilizing EMDR with people nearing the end of their lives and seeing amazingly positive results.  David and dad met on Long Beach Island where dad’s EMDR session lasted over two hours.  This was remarkable due to dad’s age and frailty.  And it completely changed the rest of his life.

“It was as if I put on a pair of glasses and saw my whole life through them differently.”  He told me that all of his life he thought there was something inherently unlovable about him and that explained why his “father” Stanley treated him so poorly.  He thought the reason he inherited money from his “uncle” Rex was because he was the only male child who could carry on the family name.  This false perception induced him to marry young and repeatedly (3 times), in order to fulfill this responsibility and also in an attempt to find a sense of family life.  It’s also why he had six kids!  I think mom might have had something to do with that as well. 

In July of 2004, dad participated in a Sky Help retreat in Westchester, NY.  He attended with firemen, FBI employees, a stone mason, volunteers from 9/11 and several others.  While the other attendees shared the experience of the September 11th attacks, dad’s “life changing event” was realizing who his true father was late in his life.  He was a beloved inspiration to the other’s attending the retreat.  Dad was one of Sky Help’s original board members and back in 2000, had helped me to fill out and file the tons of paperwork needed to apply for status as a non-profit organization.  We never anticipated then how integral Sky Help would be in helping our own family through trauma and powerful transformation. 

Though I was not a participant in this particular workshop, my heart overflowed with love and pride when I realized what a positive and inspiring impact dad had on the group and how emotionally attached to him they were.  The greatest part was to see dad enjoying this and to see him joking around with the Irish stone mason and a NYC fireman.   He turned out to be the “star” of the workshop.

The next great adventure was in February of 2005 when dad, the NYC fireman, the Irish stone mason and I went to St. John, USVI on vacation together.  We stayed in what we dubbed, the “handicapped tent” since dad was using a cane.  The shower was a hung up water hose and the only thing remotely handicapped was a ramp that led to the cabin door! 

This didn’t stop dad at all… he was a total trooper!  We watched the Super Bowl at a bar, spent lots of time with binoculars on the beach and laughed so hard we cried for days.  Dad and Sean wanted to eat smelly dead fish (kippers) for breakfast, just to gross everyone out.  Sean and Jim also kept threatening to throw the “old bloke” over the railing if he didn’t stop making fun of them.  It was my favorite vacation ever and dad was definitely at his wittiest and most charming.

Experiencing dad’s transformation was a life changing and healing experience for me.  He was transformed as a father and the kind smile that his journey had finally given him was there every day for the rest of his life.  He enjoyed sitting around and thinking about his real father and remembering things from his life.  There was no longer a single soul alive that could be embarrassed or shamed by the news.  Dad wanted to shout his truth from the mountain tops.

Which brings me to the film about his life, “Bringing Back Bill.”  Dad said that no one could make up a better story and the fact that it was true gave it a more powerful reason to be told!  I am in the process of compiling the facts of Dad’s discovered mystery – which includes a WWII torpedo bomber named the Devastator crashed off the coast of San Diego, a mysterious tattoo, the talented and sometimes disturbing art of a searching mind, the acceptance of an autistic son, a family legacy in dispute and a series of plot twists that continue to keep everyone guessing.  We have about 6 to 8 hours of film footage and I’m talking with a couple of independent film producers. 

I could never have done any of this if dad had not believed in me, encouraged me, helped with the details and participated directly.  My life’s work – Sky Help, Inc. – is the direct result of William A. H. Howland’s epiphany and his willingness to share his journey with all those who would grow and heal from the experience.