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Fred Howard
Born in Germany
86 years
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John Howard Fred Howard December 20, 2008

My father was cremated yesterday.  We felt that by having a ceremony in this room, he might be so aesthetically offended that he would come back.  We’ll see.

 

My father was not just unreligious, he was anti-religious - - at least regarding organized religion.  However, he considered himself a good Jew – one of the many paradoxes of Fred.

 

So, today this will be a celebration of him without religious reference.  This is what he would have wanted.  A spectrum of his friends will speak today.  Bonnie, his loving companion, who’s sitting up front where she belongs – has decided not to speak because she’d like others to speak about her Fred.

 

Afterwards, we’ll reconvene at the Metropolitan Club which he loved dearly - - in the building in which he lived for 20 years at 146 West 57th Street and we’ll toast him there.

 

All good Memorial services begin with a quote.  So…….

 

“I am ready to meet my maker – whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter” – Winston Churchill.

 

From my father’s point of view he died the second best way you can die – in his sleep in Mt. Sinai hospital unable to breathe because of pneumonia.  It was quick and painless and he never woke up – he really looked peaceful and even had a smile on his face.

 

My father had beautiful hands, beautiful fingernails which he cared for with teutonic perfection.  He was proud and vain about his hands and fingernails.  It was difficult to hold those hands early Saturday morning - - they were still beautiful, though cold – and wonderfully manicured.  Those Germans. 

 

Those were the hands that created so many good things.  The hands of a carpenter which is really what he was.

 

He was handy.

He could fix things.

He was precise as only a German carpenter could be precise.

 

We would build things together – he loved to design things – new things, new structures - - he tried to teach me.  Unfortunately I wasn’t so handy.  Ronnie is handy.  I felt I let him down.  As an adult I feel so good when I unstop a toilet or fix something - - I figure my father would be proud.

 

So, how did Manfred Ehrlich become Fred Howard. [Fountainhead]

 

My father was born in 1922 in Waldenberg, Germany and moved to Berlin with his parents.  In 1933 his parents divorced – unusual – because his father was gay.  He was put in an orphanage because his mother didn’t have the resources to care for him and he stayed there until 1936 when she pulled him out to go to New York.  Things were getting too hot for a trouble-making fresh Jewish kid.

 

My grandmother called my father FREE-DO-LEAN which means in German, a naughty, mischievous boy – fresh – a kid with a twinkle in his eye – someone who’s provocative – who tries to get reactions from people.

 

He’s always been Free-do-lean – always mischievous.  Always provoking.

 

So imagine being 11 – in an orphanage – a gay father who wasn’t allowed to visit – a distracted mother – and a sadistic orphanage head who beat him regularly – for 4 years.

 

The only good thing that came from this was the carpentry classes he took.

 

He once took a year to make a perfect wooden cube – perfect in Germany is a whole different standard of perfection.  He learned to use his hands and also how to protect himself.

 

This was his childhood.  This was where he was formed.

 

In 1936, he came to NY with my grandmother and they lived in a small walkup apartment on the 56th story of Fifth Ave.  His father was banished to Shanghai.  He got paid $4.00/week and bought his mother a broach on Canal Street with his first paycheck.  He was 14.  I have the check stub of that paycheck.

 

My father was really reborn serving in the Army - - he became an American and a man as well.  As many of you know he served in Army Intelligence and was a Ritchie Boy.  He was also the star of a recent documentary about the Ritchie Boys which we have all seen many times.  And enjoyed.

 

He started working as a woodworker in downtown, New York and lived in Forest Hills where he met my mother, a fellow Berliner, who also lived in Queens.  They were married in Ft. Lauderdale in 1947.

 

My mother and father never graduated from college and yet were among the best read, educated, intellectually and politically sensitive people I’ve known.

 

[The Toilet Seat Story:]

 

My father went from hard working foreman in a woodworking factory to Jr. partner to equal partner to owner, acquiring Copeland Displays and turning it into Howard Displays.

 

He was passionate about merchandising, SKU’s, gravity feeds, facings.  He worked in plastic, wood and metal.  He thermo formed, injection molded, vacuum formed, spray painted, lacquered, plated.  His employees loved him.  Sometimes, I wondered how someone that smart could be so passionate about this stuff.  He loved his business and what he had created.

 

Over time, his company became one of the largest manufacturing businesses in New York and also the largest display company in America.  The business grew and prospered and he took the company public.  Along the way, he really changed the nature of his industry from utilitarian racks that held things to beautiful, artistic merchandising sculptures – he fused art and commerce to produce displays that were beautiful and efficiently presented and sold stuff.

 

He merged his business with Mike Wahl and they remained partners for the rest of his life.  They sold the business to Saatchi and Saatchi and then bought it back – took it public again and then took it private.

 

To his last day - - last week - - he was designing displays and new product.  His excitement was contagious - - he loved to advise, design, criticize, help, redesign – and he continued to sketch and draw and solve problems.

 

His last invention was a magnetic shoe display which allowed shoes to be magnetized to metal walls for display purposes.

 

Along the way he started a sectional picture frame company, a lamp company, a dirty fortune cookie company with Buddy Hatchett, and a high fashion hat company called Fabulous Toppers (Discuss).

 

He was passionate about all these start-ups and they were all unsuccessful.  But it never stopped him.

 

I will talk about his love of brownies in private.  However, last Monday, my father had his last brownie with some good friends.

 

I thought in ending I’d read a poem by James Galvin, the last line is a killer:

 

Cherry Blossoms Blowing in Wet Blowing Snow.

 

In all the farewells in all the airports in all the profane dawns.

In the Fiat with no documents on the road to Madrid.

At the corrida.

In the Lope de Vega, the Annalena, the Jerome.

In time past, time lost, time yet to pass.

In poetry.

In watery deserts, on arid seas, between deserts and seas.

In sicknesss and in health.

In pain and in the celebration of pain.

In the delivery room.

In the garden.

In the hammock under the aspen.

In all the emergencies.

In the waterfall.

In toleration.

In retaliation.

In rhyme.

Among cherry blossoms blowing in west, blowing in snow, weren’t we something?

 

So you could say about my father in all of those crazy, great, challenging moments of life – Boy, he really was something.

Ron Howard To Father Fred December 20, 2008

My father would love me starting by using a quote from Salman Rushdie’s Stanic Verses -- “With death comes honesty”, so a little dose of honesty as we discuss this extraordinary and complex man.

My father was a great man, not a perfect man, but a brilliant man who taught John and I so much about life, about embracing life, about caring, about making a difference.  He taught us to be passionate, to grab it, to think out of the box, to not be bound by normal constraints just because they existed.  He taught us to care for those who have less, to have respect for everyone, to believe in a world of great promise, of fantastic possibilities.  

My father was also forever young at heart – a bit mischievous, at times devilish, but always refreshing, innovative, always reinventing something.  He was Fredoline.

Sometimes we learned these lessons from his actions and his words.  Sometimes we learned by seeing the down-side that resulted from his actions and words.  

But in either case, he was an extraordinary teacher, and he gave John and I a passion and drive for life that I can never thank him enough for.  He is in our DNA, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Before I tell a couple of quick Fred Howard stories… I wanted to read a short poem – something he would have thought was absolutely ridiculous – which would have caused him to make the following well-known sound (for those that know him well – you are familiar with this sound) – which, by the way, I do much better than John.

The poem is called Shadow Casting by James Galvin.

This boy’s father dies.

Fine.

It always happens.

The boy knows what to do.

 

He goes fishing the same stretch of water he
 angled with his father all his life till now.

The beaver ponds shine like a string of pearls.

It isn’t easy to fly cast a mirror finish.

The ponds are silting in.

It always happens.

They turn into meadows.

The stream is chocked with sweet smelling grasses, cotton woods and willows.

 

He knows what to do with 50 feet of line out, shadow casting.

 

The loops flash over his head, electric in the sun light, as if to illustrate grief, or the hem of a luminous dress in motion.

 

Then the tapered line rifles out, and the leed-wing touches water with no more force than its own tiny weight.

 

The surface breaks.

 

They call them rainbows for a reason.

The boy opens his father’s clasp knife to open the fish.

As he does this, some lint trapped under the blade, like a cottonwood seed from his father’s pocket, falls out and parachutes down to the grass, and suddenly this boy, it always happens, doesn’t know what to do anymore.

Everyone should please take a moment to remember the little lint you have of Fred, that may come out unexpectedly, that may cause you not to know what to do.

Some stories about my father… 

When my brother and I were growing up, my father would take us deep sea fishing – nothing fancy – The Tarpon Lodge, Florida Keys, Marathon.

Not for rainbow trout…

But for the big stuff – MAJOR -- sharks, marlin, tarpon, sail fish – fish that were bigger than we were.

We actually have pictures of sharks, of sailfish that we caught that were bigger than me.

Anyway, we did these trips for a couple of years – and suddenly he changed the trips.  Suddenly, instead of fishing for 4 or 5 days, we would fish for 2 days and then head off to another destination…

Now where would you go with 2 boys, aged 12 to 15?

 

Las Vegas of course!

We actually started to go fishing and then gambling!  A triangle from New York, to Florida to Las Vegas, back to New York

And this being many years ago, and because my brother and I had been trained at a young age to play black jack thanks to Sunday night family black jack dinners (my father did take all of my money typically – he was teaching hard lessons even then), my father actually got the casino management to let us play at the tables – I at 13 won $400 to buy a new camera.

Anyway, years later my dad admitted that he really didn’t like fishing. This was his creating some special time, when the Howard men could be together.  And we loved every minute of it.

One later gambling story.

As adults, we were one night gambling in Atlantic city with my father.

My brother and I were gambling at a black jack table with a modest limit while my father was playing at a higher stakes table.  After about an hour, unknown to us, he was up quite a lot of money.

He walked by our table, saw us, watched for a moment, and then placed a $1000 chip on each of the hands we were playing and walked away without saying anything.  

The other people at the table were stunned.

John turned to me and said “Who was that man”, and I said “I don’t know”.

Imagine, a whole table of strangers who have been telling a Fred Howard story for all of these years without knowing it was Fred Howard – about a crazy guy in a casino…

Recently I was discussing how my father used to pick up one of my children’s toys when they were young, and instead of doing what other grandparents do with toys, he started to examine it, take it a part, explain to me how the injection molded plastic was ingenious, he marveled at, and discussed the cost of goods – how it could be improved.

And who has not heard my dad say…

AHHH… this is the best steak, fantastic potatoes, or lately ahh! The crab salad!

He loved everything including art – but art that spoke to him – I loved that about him.  It wasn’t the artist name that impressed him – it was truly how it affected him.

Usually something suggestive sexually, or highly explicit affected him – but anything could do it.

There were no constraints to my father –he did what he wanted, his way.

He was unconventional to say the least.

The amazing thing about my father is that I could pick any row in this chapel, and person in that row, and they could certainly tell 2 or 3 amazing Fred Howard stories.  

He was truly one of a kind.

In closing, let me read a few words from his obituary…

My dad’s passion for everything made his life anything but ordinary.   There were no constraints in his mind or actions, nothing that inhibited his enormous energy and creativity, or his appetite for life.  He was a creator of ideas, of products, of companies. He inspired others to think out of the box.

We are all diminished by the loss of his blazing intellect and provocative rascally ways.  He was never boring.  He died peacefully in his sleep in New York, the place he loved most on this earth. It was “his kind of town”.

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