Farewell to the keeper of 'The Call': Roy Howard

Farewell to the keeper of 'The Call': Roy Howard

The Rev. Roy Howard was a history giant in Holston Conference and a collector of Holston Conference newspapers.

The Rev. Roy Howard was not only a friend. He was an expert on the publication to which I've devoted 20 years of my life. He dropped by my office to visit at least annually and shared suggestions for good stories, too. 

In 2008, I asked another friend, John Shearer, to write a story about Roy. In those days, The Call was still a newspaper, and the two-page spread with Roy's story included images of Holston Conference newspapers from decades past. Roy had copies of them all.

Roy Howard died on Sept. 19, 2020 at the age of 90. I'll miss his visits, his wisdom, his friendship, his sweet nature, and the assurance that someone knew and loved The Call even more than I.

Here's our 2008 story. -- Annette Spence, editor

August 2008

Keeper of The Call

Roy Howard is not only a part of Holston Conference history. He also helps preserve it.

By John Shearer

For more than 50 years, the Rev. Roy Howard has saved almost every copy of the Holston Conference newspaper. He never had any official request from the conference office to do it; the longtime pastor just has a special interest in history.

His collection dates back to the days when the publication was named The Holston Methodist, followed by The Holston United Methodist (also known The HUM). The first edition of the newly named The Call was published in January 1993.

Howard’s archives are only slightly less complete than the bound books of Holston newspapers, now stored in the Alcoa conference office, dating to 1944.

“I guess you could say I am a pack rat,” said Howard, who will be 78 on Aug. 13. “I have been keeping every issue since 1956. One or two have slipped away, but I have almost every issue.”

He even has an edition from 1948 that has his own photo in it, when he was a ministerial student at Ridgedale Methodist Church in Chattanooga.

Howard became interested in preserving the newspaper while serving as a district representative for Chattanooga and then Knoxville during the 1970s, helping to provide news and taking Polaroid pictures for the conference publication.

Just as other newspapers have changed over the years, so has the Holston paper. A look at past editions shows text-heavy pages with fewer graphics and photos.
“There was a lot more local church news a few years ago,” he said.

However, the purpose and role of the conference newspaper have not changed. Howard believes The Call provides a connection between the 906 churches and 167,000 members of the Holston Conference, as well as its ministries, agencies, and institutions.

“Somebody in Chattanooga finds out what Wytheville is doing, and sometimes you learn something about somebody not far from you,” he said.

Howard – whose collection of conference papers has become so large he has to keep it in a storage building outside his house – recently gave his treasure a relevance to the present. Earlier this year, he published a soft-cover history book on Holston history during the 1996-2004 tenure of Bishop Ray Chamberlain Jr.

Titled “Basin, Pitcher and Towel” – a reference to Chamberlain’s frequent use of the motif during his resident bishop term – the book provides easy-to-find historical details.

For Howard, who sold and signed copies of his book at Annual Conference in June, having all the back issues of The Call made his research easier.

“If I had not had my own copies and had to go somewhere, it would have been a lot more difficult, and I would have put a lot less in the book,” he said.

In January 2008, The Call changed from a bi-weekly newspaper to a monthly newspaper combined with a weekly e-mail publication. Howard said he is struggling with the technology. He uses the Internet and has an e-mail account, but he has decided not to archive the weekly e-mail publication, The Call 2, the way he has saved the newspaper for these past 50 years.

Howard is not sure what made him interested in history, but he has served as president of the Conference Historical Society since its formation in 1988. The group has about 50 members and meets three times annually. In July, the society hosted the Southeastern Jurisdiction Historical Society at Tennessee Wesleyan College.

During his 41 years of service, Howard helped six of his churches compile their own histories, and he’s helped several others since he retired in 1995. He also wrote histories for the Knoxville and Abingdon Districts, and biographies on his own father and son. His father owned a furniture store and “did a good bit of lay speaking” in the Chattanooga District.

But, as many long-time Holstonians know, the Howard family is best known as a clergy family – and as a musical family, too. Roy and his brothers, the Rev. J.N. Howard and the Rev. Marvin Howard, have sung together at annual conferences past, while their sister, Joyce Stanbery, accompanied them on piano. Stanbery teaches music at Lee University, while Roy Howard is the pianist for Wauhatchie United Methodist Church in Chattanooga District. Marvin is a general evangelist; J.N. is retired and serving as pastor at Signal Mountain United Methodist Church.

Howard’s son, Rick, was also a Holston pastor. He served at Red Bank United Methodist Church in Chattanooga when he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in January 2004. Rick Howard died at age 47 on May 13, 2004.

“He said he would like to preach the last Sunday he was alive,” his father recalls. “He came within two weeks of that.”

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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.