John Burnham Howe, 93, of Jackson NH, has completed his final hike. He died January 20, 2020, after a long and vibrant life.
John was born in Boston July 8, 1926. He attended Deerfield Academy and Princeton University, and, in 1945, served briefly in the Army Air Corps. His varied career was primarily in geology and meteorological sciences. In the early ’60s he worked with NASA on the first generation of weather satellites, Tiros 1. During this time, he lived in Fairbanks, Alaska with his wife, Mary.
As a young man, John worked for the AMC, skinning mules, packing loads up to the Lakes of the Clouds and Madison huts, and working as a hutman. He was a member of the Old Hutman’s Association. Beginning in the 1950s, his love of hiking led to a tradition on the Summer Solstice, of hiking from Randolph to Bartlett, covering the entire Presidential Range in one day. He continued this ritual well into his 70s.
John worked for many years at the Mount Washington Observatory, serving as staff engineer, scientist, and weather observer, earning the title of “Icingologist”, for his expertise in deciphering the vagaries of ice accumulation at altitude. He was known as the Old Man on the Mountain. While working at the Observatory he made many of his shift changes on foot and skis, when weather allowed — and sometimes when it didn’t.
One of John’s 15 minutes of fame came when he was a contestant on the long-running game show, To Tell The Truth. He appeared as himself, a Mount Washington weather observer. He did not stump the panel, his sturdy Yankee persona was impossible to disguise.
After retiring, John and Mary sailed their 31-foot wooden sloop, Vixen, from Maine to the Bahamas several times. Back in New England, when not at their home in Jackson, N.H., they sailed the coast of Maine, where they had many adventures with friends and family. While John would have demurred, his four children’s love of hiking, sailing, the natural world, good writing, music and a well-spun tale were shaped by his examples and tutelage. His long marriage with Mary proved a fine mix of adventure and domestic homesteading comedy that made it seem archetypal.
While fly-fishing, hiking, tinkering with old Volvos and even older clocks abated in the last several years of his life, John was still cutting and splitting his own firewood until just a few years ago. Recently he was still reading Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O’Brian; and listening to Brahms, Handel, Hayden and Mozart.
His sister, Elizabeth Howe Verrill, and his brother, Nicholas, predeceased John. His beloved wife of 58 years, Mary, died just 6 weeks before he did. John leaves behind son Andrew Howe and his wife Gay, of Jackson, NH; son, Nathaniel Howe and his wife Pamela, of Belfast, Maine; daughter Catherine (Cuppy) and her husband Dick Gordon, of Wellesley, Massachusetts; daughter Lucy and her husband Reese Hersey, of East Calais, Vermont. John also leaves behind 7 grandchildren. The family will have a private ceremony in the spring. Donations in John’s name can be made to the Mount Washington Observatory, P. O. Box 2310, North Conway, NH 03860.
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