Jim Howes’ Wikipedia page is a long one.
He was: an airport executive, a Boy Scout leader, a pilot, a pipe organist, a radio host and a model train builder. He traveled, sang in a professional choir and produced recordings of church music. He also was a prolific editor on Wikipedia.
Mr. Howes spent his life contributing — from growing the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport to mentoring Scouts to hosting his long-running radio show on Spirit 90.5 FM.
“The things that he loved, he took very seriously,” said niece Julia Gentle.
Mr. Howes, who lived in Safety Harbor, died Sept. 14 of a heart attack. He was 75.
Planes, trains and pipe organs
He worked in the aviation industry, but Mr. Howes loved trains.
Trips with the Order of the Arrow, a Boy Scout service organization that he helped lead locally, were always by train and never the most direct route.
Layovers meant a chance to get out of the station and see a place.
“It was just the way he traveled,” said Duane Daiker, a friend and former Scout. “He wanted to see it all, and he wanted to show us all of it.”
Mr. Howes built his own small world in one room of his home with a model train set created to look like his hometown, Baltimore. It included a tiny Domino Sugar refinery and the Evangelical church where his grandfather was the pastor.
His home also held a towering pipe organ, which Mr. Howes commissioned from a Dutch company. He was a member of the professional Riverside Church Choir in New York. And for 35 years, he hosted Sacred Classics on Spirit 90.5 FM.
Mr. Howes prerecorded his shows. The final one ran Sept. 25 and 26.
A steady force
When Mr. Howes started working at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport in 1980, fewer than 100,000 passengers flew in each year, and only on weekends.
“During the week, we’d literally close up the terminal and turn the lights off,” he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2000.
By the time he left, PIE served about 20 flights a day.
Frederick Piccolo worked as the assistant airport director with Mr. Howes in the years after the industry was deregulated in 1978.
“He steered it through some very difficult times because of the volatility in the airline industry,” said Piccolo, now director of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
Mr. Howes was a demanding boss, Piccolo said, and that made him the right person for that job at that time.
“Every time I thought we’d done all we could with the resources we had, he would say, ‘that’s not good enough,’ and you would find that you know what, he was right, you could do better,” he said.
Mr. Howes hired Thomas Jewsbury in 1994, and Jewsbury remembers getting invited to meetings and to participate in studies that helped him grow in his job.
Jewsbury is now PIE’s executive director. In 2019, more than 2 million passengers flew through the once-overlooked airport.
Mr. Howes’ next adventure took him to Bermuda, where he spent several years as general manager of the Bermuda International Airport. That job was perfect for him, friends said. Mr. Howes was able to bring his approach for growth to the airport, and in Bermuda, it was OK to wear shorts with his sport coat.
At least, that’s what he told everyone.
When Julia Gentle was old enough, she recognized that Mr. Howes was somehow both a serious, respected professional and the fun uncle who’d toss her around in a blanket and watch Saturday morning cartoons with her.
He never married or had a family but built one in Florida out of friends he made and kept. They traveled on his airplane to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and took trips to Europe. When Jeremy Rasmussen, a friend and former Scout, wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Mr. Howes flew them to Key West for the perfect setting.
“He liked to do spectacular things and take ideas and run with them,” Rasmussen said.
Mr. Howes left his mark on Wikipedia, where he wrote 68 articles, contributed to 44 and was named a master editor. His contributions included articles on the Boy Scouts of America, Lassie and the Horseshoe Curve in Pennsylvania.
Since his death, his friends have carried on his work and updated his page.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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