'Doc' Howard cared for generations of children, had passion for golfRespected doctor made his appointed rounds both on, off links
Rockland — Everyone knew him as "Doc," while others affectionately referred to him as "Grumpy," a nickname derived from his perceived gruff demeanor, a personality trait that, for some, effectively hid the true nature of a man with a heart of gold.
While known and respected for many things, Dr. Emery Howard Jr., who died July 23 at age 78 after a period of declining health, may be best remembered for two things.
One, being the pediatrician for generations of Midcoast children as a caring, old-school doctor who worked tirelessly to keep local youngsters healthy from 1963 through 2009.
And, two, of course, his unwavering passion for golf.
Howard positively touched the lives of so many, from the thousands of children who visited his doctor's office to his playing partners on the links.
"Doc" had many loves, with golf being one of his most passionate. When able, he played year round, often hundreds of rounds annually, including in the dead of the rugged Maine winter.
Usually, neither wind, nor rain nor the dead of night could stop Howard from making his appointed rounds on the course.
According to Keenan Flanagan, PGA pro at the Rockland Golf Club, Howard shot 96 for 18 holes July 3 on his final round on the course. This season, Howard recorded 66 rounds, and averaged 88.6 per 18 holes.
His passion for the game never left him.
Flanagan said his family knew Howard for decades. "Basically, he'd brought me up almost since birth, like every other kid in Rockland. He meant a lot to my family as a whole. My wife and my two kids and myself. My dad and him were really, really good friends in school and played a lot of golf together and watched each other grow up. He saved a lot of people's lives in this area and made a lot of mothers into mothers. [He] taught them how to care for their kids and little things like that."
Flanagan said life around the golf club already is different, considering Howard usually was the first person to tee off, essentially christening the course for that day.
"It's very different already," Flanagan said. "He would always come and fill me in on the weather. He was part-time meteorologist, part-time golf pro, part everything. 'Doc' kind of called the shots and that was just his personality. He was very abrupt and very rough but, deep down, he had a heart of gold. He'd do anything for you, anything whenever you asked him. He's going to be sorely missed around here."
Legacy in medicine
Although many will remember Howard for his golf exploits, and he certainly achieved plenty of success locally and statewide on the links, it was his care and compassion for the health of children that perhaps will be his most notable legacy.
For decades, his doctor's office was located on the corners of Union and Summer streets, less than 100 yards from his longtime home on Summer Street.
Howard was a member of the RGC for much of his life. He was inducted into the Midcoast Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Howard was a consistent, respected part of the local community as a pediatrician and spent years on the sidelines at Rockland District High School football games caring for injured young student-athletes.
Howard graduated from Rockland High School in 1952 (he was class salutatorian). He later attended the University of Maine and graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston in 1960. He did his internship and residency at Maine Medical Center in Portland before opening a private practice on July 1, 1963, on Summer Street in Rockland.
Dr. Dana Goldsmith, a colleague and fellow pediatrician, said Howard insisted on keeping his doctor's office in downtown Rockland because many of his patients, especially early in his practice, had no transportation.
That was Doc, always looking to serve his patients.
Howard's father, Emery Sr., was a dentist with an office at 407 Main St. in Rockland from the 1920s through the 1950s. So helping others through medicine was in Howard's blood from a young age.
Avid all-around athlete
Howard was a standout in basketball and golf. He was a champion at the Rockland Golf Club in 1951 at the age of 17. Even into his 70s, Doc was known for playing golf year round, including more than 150 rounds in most years. Even when it is bitterly cold, if the course was clear, Howard tried to get in a round.
Howard once said he was "addicted" to golf because "you can never have the same shot twice." He often posted the most rounds of anyone in Maine. From the late-1970s through the mid-90s, he averaged 325 rounds per year. In 1979, he played 404 rounds.
Howard, a Maine School Administrative District 5 board member from 1964 through 1979 (he served as chairman for four years), started playing golf at age 12. He shot 157 for 18 holes in his first round. He improved quickly and, at age 16, won a junior tournament with an 18-hole round of 69.
He was known to buzz around the course in a golf cart to get in as many holes as possible. When he was younger, he could play 18 holes, with a cart, in less than two hours. In the past, he would start playing golf at 4:15 a.m. and by 7:30 a.m. had played 36 holes.
Howard was, at one point, a scratch amateur golfer and served as pro at RGC in the mid-1950s. He was the 1955 state intercollegiate golf champion as a University of Maine in Orono senior. He had about 10 career holes-in-ones, including a double-eagle on the par-4 17th hole at RGC, won many club championships and once played 13 1/2 rounds of golf in one day.
"He always came to the golf course at 4:30 in the morning and he would play golf before he had to go to the hospital to check on all his babies," said Flanagan. "The [babies] he delivered and even the ones he didn't deliver. That was his routine."
Helen Plourd, also a longtime RGC member, said she will miss her nearly lifelong friend.
"We played golf real early in the morning for numerous years, no matter what the weather was," said Plourd, a retired teacher. "He usually drove the cart and, on a real hot day when the sprinklers were going, he would take me through the sprinklers and go round and round and round."
Plourd said, "Doc was a fast driver, not just on the golf cart but in his car too. Whenever there was a little bump or [a dip in the course terrain], he always took those with a lot of speed. We'd go over those just laughing our heads off."
But, mostly, on the course, "He was a great competitor," she said. "We competed against each other, but it was just for fun." They often played in tournaments together and "usually came home being first-place winners" she said.
"When we played in the morning he would get numerous calls from the hospital," Plourd said. "He'd say, 'I told them I'm out here playing golf and I don't want to be bothered.' But the minute that phone rang, golf was set aside and he was very polite to the nurses and the doctors … When it was time to act like a medical professional, he always did. He was not only exemplary on the golf course but in his profession."
Plourd said her Thomaston Grammar School students often asked if she could beat her early-morning playing partner in a round golf. Then those students' parents would tell Plourd that Howard "discovered what was wrong with [their] child. He just had this innate ability."
Plourd said Howard may have come across as gruff and grumpy, but "he was a very sincere, sensitive man. I don't think that most people knew how sensitive he was. But because of my close relationship with him, I discovered that. He was not a man that showed his emotions that much. Very straightforward, very outspoken, which I liked. My husband served on the school board with him [in the 1960s] and he always respected his opinion, even when they didn't always agree."
Howard was a member of the RGC board of directors from 1982-87 and club president for three years. He followed Wes Wasgatt, whom the football field on Thomaston Street is named, as the doctor on the sidelines at RDHS football games for 20 years.
"When I got here in Rockland he had already established himself as probably the best sideline doctor in the state," said Ed Mazurek, who was the Tigers' head coach for 10 years and now serves as a state representative. "And so he was at every single game we played. He was just a tremendous help to the players and the coaches. He was terrific to have on the sideline.
"If a kid got hurt we'd say, 'Go see a doctor,' and [the child would] say, 'I don't have a doctor,' so I'd send him over to 'Doc' Howard and he'd take care of the injured player. He was a tremendous asset to the football program and to SAD 5 as it was known back then.
"For a while it seemed like every kid that I coached was delivered by 'Doc' Howard. I mean he delivered 95 percent of the people in Rockland. Everybody liked him and respected him … He was a great asset to the City of Rockland, particularly to the athletic teams."
In his younger days, Howard played in local adult softball and basketball leagues.
Howard won RGC club championships in 1951, 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1986. His other golf accomplishments include: MSGA interscholastic runner-up in 1952; Maine intercollegiate runner-up in 1954; Maine Intercollegiate champion in 1955; University of Maine golf team 1952-56 and captain in 1956; helped RDH go unbeaten 1951-52; Paul Bunyan Clinton Dill winner for players ages 50 and older; RGC senior club champion in 1995, 1996 and 1999; Wotton Cup Champion at RGC in 1985, 1999 and 2005; two-ball champion at RGC in 1990; three ball-champion at RGC in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990; and couples champion at RGC in 1992, 1993 and 1996.
In high school, he was the second leading scorer for the Tiger basketball team in 1952 with 12 points per game.
In 2008 during his Midcoast Sports Hall-of-Fame speech, Howard said playing sports helped shaped his life.
In September 30, 2009, Howard retired from medicine. "He’s a legend in his own time," said Nancy Foster at the time, in reference to her boss of nearly nine years. Howard served Midcoast families for 46 years.
"I had the privilege of being 'Doc' Howard's fourth and last secretary," Foster said more recently. "Having been told he could be a little grumpy, I was a bit cautious at first, but soon realized he had a heart of gold and great sense of humor. He was not only brilliant, but treated everyone with respect and kindness.
"I am so lucky to have worked with 'Doc' the last nine years of his career. We had a fabulous adventure. I will cherish our friendship and the memories … To all of you in the community who are part of the 'Doc' Howard fan club, I know for sure that he loved you too."
Nola Mank Metcalf, RNC, who worked with Howard in maternity at the hospital, said, "I had the privilege of working with 'Grumpy Doc' Howard for over 30 years as a nurse at PBMC and as a mother. He was one of a kind and one of the best. His patients and any he encountered were very important and he would make sure they were going to be OK. For so many decades he rarely had a real day off as his Thursday off really didn’t matter. If your kid was sick, day or night, you could reach him even if he was on the golf course. He was a doctor, teacher, mentor, and great friend to me and I will miss his hugs and smiles. My thoughts go out to his family and grand kids he spoke of and loved so much. May the greens be with you, Doc. Love ya. One of your ‘A Team’."
Goldsmith said Howard was "a devoted and respected pediatrician who dedicated his life to improving the health of infants and children in the Midcoast for nearly 50 years … He truly cared for the babies and children of our community. His dedication, his work ethic were an inspiration."
Howard was trained as a doctor at a time when doctors cared for patients 24 hours a day, Goldsmith said.
Dr. Susan McKinley, a colleague and fellow pediatrician, was asked prior to his retirement about Howard's career. She said, "He's seen things we'll never see, worked harder than we will ever work and has been an advocate for the children of this community since the rest of us were in diapers. The department of Pediatrics, in fact the whole community, owes him a great debt. Dr. Howard will be missed."
Howard, who had a laugh that was contagious, once said that throughout his 46-year career as a pediatrician he "never regretted a single day" of what he was doing. He said he decided to retire in 2009 to play more golf, something he did at one point to earn money for medical school.
A self-described "idealist with brains" in high school, Howard wanted to use his intelligence to help people. He enrolled in the University of Maine for dentistry. In his second year, he decided he wanted to look at the total health of a person, not just the mouth, so then went to Tufts Medical School.
When asked how he got into pediatrics, Howard once said, "I didn’t want to be a GP (general practitioner) because adults are quite sissy, they complain a lot. Kids do beautifully as long as you tell them what to expect."
Howard once described his career as "exciting and rewarding." He had hundreds of "best moments" during his 46-year career, from house calls to the excitement of assisting in-office surgeries, to the challenge of treating children who were sick with meningitis.
He once said he was appreciative of the vaccines that were developed to treat diseases like meningitis despite the fact that they have caused his day-to-day work to become less exciting. He even tried to make the vaccination process more fun for him and easier for the patient with his "count method" in which he told the child to look away while he gave them the shot on the count of 10. By the time he reached 10, the shot had already been given and the child didn’t even notice because they were so caught up in waiting for the count to reach 10.
One of a kind
Patients and families usually admired Howard’s expertise and direct manner. However, Howard was not worried about those who did not.
He said the best advice he was given as a young medical student was from one of his professors: "Not everybody is going to like you and you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt and don’t worry about it." Howard once said this is valuable advice for any person.
The best medical advice Howard passed on to new pediatricians was to "listen to the parents. Ninety-nine percent of the time they know when their child isn’t feeling right." He listened to the parents of three generations of children, and Howard once said he will "miss all the mothers and kids. They’ve all been wonderful and I’ve really enjoyed what I’m doing."
Former Rockland Mayor Tom Molloy once said Howard's grumpiness was "all show" and that the doctor always had a "big heart."
Howard also was a dedicated family man, who had several children, including Emery III, Greg and Mark. The love of his life was his wife, Germaine G. Howard. The couple was married Dec. 14, 1957. Howard was predeceased by his son Emery III and his wife.
" 'Doc' was the best grandfather any girl could ask for," said Becky Lowe. "I am so lucky to have all of the memories I have of him. And I love hearing about everyone else's stories as well. He truly cared about all the people around him and it's very clear that he is going to be missed by all."
Flanagan said the family has talked about scattering Howard's ashes on the Rockland Golf Course, a seemingly fitting final resting place for a man who spent a large portion of life playing the game he loved — on that cherished track of land.
"He always had these pruning shears and when we would go by the trees that people had dedicated in memory of his son [on the course] and he would prune those trees," Plourd said. "And we both would cry together. And when we would go down the first hole and see the [Rockland] Breakwater [in the distance], sometimes that would bring back memories of his son and we'd have a little cry. We had a lot of good memories, and I was honored to have known him."
Some information for this story came from previous stories published by Courier Publications or VillageSoup during Howard's life.
Courier Publications Sports Director Ken Waltz can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.