Lee Roy Howard departed this life to embark on another new adventure Jan. 16 after a brief illness. Lee passed away with Shirley, his bride of 64 years, by his side.
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Self-made, war hero, Marine pilot, engineer, economist, entrepreneur, and devoted to his family, Lee took life's highs and lows in good-natured stride, ready to help a friend or stranger, always cheerful, energetic and up for a good time.
Lee was born in Hominy, Okla. on July 22, 1925 to Percy and Jesse Howard. He joined the Marines at age 17 after graduating high school and won an enlisted man's appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1943. After graduating in 1948, Lee married the love of his life, Shirley Irene Griffiths of Kansas City, and joined the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant.
Lee was with the Fifth Marines as a platoon leader when he landed under heavy enemy fire at Inchon, Korea on Sept. 15, 1950. He was awarded the Bronze Star after he led an attack that destroyed a North Korean tank and infantry column, a battle in which just one man in his platoon was slightly wounded.
Lee was wounded near Seoul, awarded a Purple Heart, recovered, and was back in the fight, this time at the Chosin Reservoir, where an overwhelming Chinese attack forced the Marines to retreat. Lee, who was in charge of motor transport, was among the last Marines to leave "Frozen Chosin."
Returning to the U.S., Lee earned his wings as a Marine aviator. He and Shirley moved to Southern California, where Lee was stationed at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station until he resigned his commission as a captain in 1954. In 1956, Lee earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California.
Lee worked as an aeronautical engineer for McDonnell Douglas and later for Lockheed, TWA and Pan American Airlines before joining the Air Transport Association as an economist in Washington, D.C. He went on to launch a successful consulting firm, Airline Economics, where he served as president until his retirement. During his career, Lee traveled the world, his advice sought by corporate and political leaders.
Lee was an avid sportsman who loved fishing and camping with Shirley and his children, Susie, Bill, John and Chuck. When he retired, Lee and Shirley moved to Big Canoe in North Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where Lee fished for bass and trout nearly every day. He also pursued his passion for woodworking, crafting beautiful furniture for family and friends.
After a vacation trip to Montana in 2003, Lee realized one of his life's dreams, fishing Montana's legendary Madison River. He and Shirley decided to move to Bozeman in Big Sky Country, where the couple loved to entertain at their home on Cougar Drive.
Lee was a man of great courage and strength. His older sister Betty passed away in 1969 and, later, he and Shirley lost their beloved sons, Chuck, in 1975, and Bill in 1989, events that would have broken many people. The deep and unconditional love Lee and Shirley shared saw them through both tragedies.
In addition to Shirley, Lee is survived by his daughter, Susie Foley, of Kennesaw, Ga., and his son, John Howard, of Glastonbury, Conn. He is also survived by his four grandchildren, Patrick C. Foley of Atlanta, Katie Foley Jacobs of Athens, Ga., Alison Howard Otto of New Haven, Conn. and Marisa Howard of Glastonbury, Conn., along with numerous nephews and nieces.
Lee's many friends will gather in the near future to hoist a glass of single malt scotch in Lee's honor and celebrate this extraordinary man's life. In lieu of flowers, the family requests any donations be made in Lee's name to the Bozeman Deaconess Foundation/Hospice of Southwest Montana.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Jan. 18, 2013