Edward “Keith” Howell, 93, died peacefully from complications of prostate cancer at 12:15 PM on Sunday, May 20, 2018 in Carolina Village, Hendersonville, North Carolina.
Born August 13, 1924 in Asheville, NC, Keith was the son of Edward Newland Howell and Elizabeth Louise Babbitt Howell (Bessie). He was preceded in death by his first wife, Margaret Lois Swaim Howell; by his daughter, Margaret Anne Howell; and by his stepdaughter Susan Abbott. He is survived by his loving wife, Catharine Elizabeth Middleton Howell (Kitty); by two children: daughter Lois Kathryn Howell (Kathryn) of Richmond, CA and son Edward Keith Howell, Jr. (Ted) of Tacoma, WA — and Ted’s wife April; by his grandson, Lucas Howell of Novato, CA; by Lucas’ mother Antoinette Howell of Novato, CA; and by two step-daughters: Joan Durdan Montgomery of Hartford, CT and Judith Durdan of Trinity, FL.
His father was Principal of Swannanoa (NC) Schools from 1926 until his death in 1957. His mother was also active in educationand was President of the North Carolina Congress of Parents and Teachers. Keith graduated from Swannanoa High School in 1940 and received his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree, with honors, from N. C. State College in 1948 after flying 16 combat missions as a tail gunner on a B-24 bomber in the 15th Air Force while stationed in southern Italy during World War II. He was a member of Eta Kappa Nu, an honorary Electrical Engineering fraternity, and Tau Beta Pi, an honorary Engineering fraternity, Mu Beta Psi, an honorary music fraternity, and the Engineers Council of N. C. State College. He was a registered Professional Engineer in the state of New York, recently on inactive status.
He was employed as an Electrical Engineer by the General Electric from 1948 until his retirement in 1987. Following his completion of the GE Creative Engineering Program in 1951, he held a variety of assignments developing new product components for portable televisions, cassette tape recorders, outdoor lighting equipment, power semiconductors, integrated circuits, and electronic controls for power circuit breakers.
Keith developed and patented the Photoelectric Control for streetlights while employed at General Electric Outdoor Lighting in 1960. Most streetlights in use today worldwide have that little round device on top that turns the streetlight on at dusk and off at dawn. A working miniature model of the famous GE “Cobra Head” streetlight is on display along with placards explaining this accomplishment at the Henderson County Heritage Museum, Hendersonville, NC.
Keith holds 89 U.S. and 15 foreign Patents, including the “Triac” semiconductor, the light dimmer, photoelectric controls for streetlights, and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. In 1979 corporate General Electric bestowed the prestigious Charles P. Steinmetz Medal on Keith for technological excellence. GE Corporate Research and Development Center also awarded him the Arthur M. Bueche Award for his work in solid-state electronics. He is a Life Senior Member of IEEE.
Following his retirement, he was adjunct professor of electronics at the University of Hartford (CT) prior to returning to NC in 1991. In retirement he has served as an engineering consultant to Dampp-Chaser Electronics Corp. in Hendersonville, NC, as well as several other local and national companies.
Keith attained the rank of Eagle Scout and the Order of the Arrow (OA) in Troop 5 of Swannanoa NC. He received the Vigil Honor of the OA as an adult. Participation in Scout Wood Badge training helped in his later roles as: Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 188, Liverpool NY; Cubmaster of Pack 261 and Scoutmaster of Troop 61, Skaneateles NY; Scoutmaster of Troop 94, Simsbury CT; and as District Commissioner of the Land-O-Sky District, Daniel Boone Council, Henderson County NC. He also held district and council positions in Central New York, Connecticut, and western North Carolina.
He sang, and soloed, in Methodist Church choirs in Hendersonville, Skaneateles NY, and Simsbury CT, and in the “Cantabile” chorus in Hendersonville. His experience playing tuba included bands at Swannanoa NC HS, Asheville NC HS, the NC State College marching band, concert band, and ROTC band, a one-concert substitute with the Raleigh Symphony (later to become the NC Symphony), Air Force Band at Ellington Field, TX, Simsbury (CT) Community Band, and the Hendersonville Community Band, where he also served as board member and president. He had played with the Basin Street Dixieland Jazz Band and the Mardi Gras Brass Band for several years, entertaining residents of retirement centers and nursing homes in the Hendersonville area. He was an actor with Belfry Players and an actor and lights and sound technician for the Hendersonville Little Theater.
Other past or present memberships include: Lions Club of Skaneateles, NY; Golden K Kiwanis Club of Hendersonville; CT & WNC Mensa; GE Elfun Society; Piney Grove (First) Presbyterian Church of Swannanoa NC; United Methodist Church of Hendersonville NC, Skaneateles NY, and Etowah NC; and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville, but has had no religious affiliation since 2003.
After moving into Carolina Village in 2010, he headed a team of operators for the Village Hall audio/video equipment. In 2014, he invented a new light dimmer for LED lamps, and donated it to NC State University.
He had a deep knowledge of his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains and took pride in intimately knowing their history and features. Per his wishes, his family will hold a private ceremony atop Black Balsam Knob later this summer. Keith will be greatly missed and always cherished for his zany wit, brilliance, and sense of adventure.
A Celebration of Keith’s Life will be held June 21 at 2 PM in the Village Hall at Carolina Village. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to a charity or cause of your choice.
Carolina Village Hall - Directions
600 Carolina Village Road
Hendersonville, NC 28792