Howard O. Towle
GUILDERLAND — Howard O. Towle taught his two daughters the value of money and education — resources he lacked in his own childhood — while, through his hard work and compassion, he served as a model for generosity.
He died on Friday, Nov. 1, after a short illness. He was 88.
“I don’t remember him ever raising his voice,” said his daughter, Gloria Towle-Hilt. “He just had a way of letting you know the right thing to do by who he was. He lived his life by example. Like osmosis, we absorbed his work ethic and how to treat people.”
One of the lessons he directly taught his daughters, she said, was, “When you got money, put a quarter of it way.”
Mr. Towle kept a red book in which he recorded interest-free family loans. “We had to pay back,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt.
She remembered, as a kid, when the ice-cream man came down the street, “Dad would say, ‘See your Mom.’ He never gave money away.”
He was, however, a generous man. “It was about love and family and being there for each other,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt. “That’s what he gave.”
Mr. Towle was born in Brooklyn, the son of Margaret and Robert Towle. “He was 4 when the stock market crashed. It was very difficult,” Ms. Towle-Hilt said of his growing up during the Great Depression. “His mother had three children to raise,” she said.
“He knew what it was like to go hungry, to have to wear secondhand clothing, to rely on others for basic things,” Ms. Towle-Hilt said at his funeral service on Tuesday. He and his brother, Johnny, and their friend Jimmy would ride the city trains and sing to collect some coins.
“He’d hold the cup,” she said because Jimmy and Johnny had better voices.
Ms. Towle-Hilt laughed to relate that one of her father’s first jobs was delivering singing telegrams in New York City.
He’d left school at age 14 in order to help support his family.
When Mr. Towle turned 18, he was eager to serve in World War II. He first went to the Army recruiters, Ms. Towle-Hilt said, but, when they took information and said they’d be in touch, he did not want to wait and immediately went down the street to the Merchant Marine recruiters.
He served as a seaman in the United States Merchant Marine in the Caribbean. “He was on the tankers that brought oil. It was like a floating bomb,” said his daughter. “What he talked about, though, was how he loved being at sea.”
Mr. Towle loved the ocean all his life and saved money to move his family from Brooklyn to Long Island. He had met the woman who would become his wife, Gloria, as part of a neighborhood group of teens who hung out together in Brooklyn. “Mom said he honed in on her like a laser,” said Ms. Towle-Hilt. “She had a tough life, too. He said, ‘You’re it’ and that was it.”
The devoted couple worked hard and, after both of them had retired, moved to Guilderland in 1996 to be near their two grown daughters, both educators.
After Mrs. Towle died in 1999, he asked his daughter, “Now what will get me up each day?” Ms. Towle-Hilt answered him, “Don’t worry about that, Dad. I have a few ideas.”
He joined her in volunteer work at St. John’s Outreach Center in Albany’s South End, working in the food pantry and soup kitchen there for 14 years where he was known for his compassion.
Always a hard worker, Mr. Towle had a series of factory jobs, eventually working as a general foreman and supervisor for Cerro Wire in Maspeth, Queens. When that plant closed, even though Mr. Towle was at an age when many men retire, he found a job at another plant closer to home than the two-and-a-half hour ride into Queens on the Long Island Expressway.
Although he worked hard, Mr. Towle was known, too, for his sense of humor and, said his daughter, “He could tell a joke.” He was also a baseball fan. “After his beloved Dodgers left Brooklyn, he became an avid New York Mets fan,” his family wrote in a tribute. “He never lost faith or hope that they would one day become a baseball superpower.”
Ms. Towle-Hilt described her father as “a faith-filled person.” She didn’t find out until she was an adult that her father had been raised a Lutheran. He converted to Catholicism in his middle age. Since Mr. Towle had promised, when he married a Catholic, to raise any children in that faith, he took his daughters to Mass every Sunday.
“We went every Sunday and every Holy Day without fail,” Ms. Towel-Hilt said. In recent years, Mr. Towle attended Mass at St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Guilderland with his daughter. “We always sat in the front row,” said Gloria Towle-Hilt.
He helped with church projects, including blood drives and being a collection counter, but also was eager to help anyone who needed it.
“Dad was like a kid when snow was predicted,” said his daughter. “He loved the snow. He’d beat anyone out there and do everybody’s driveway.”
It was hard for him, in the last few years, she said, not be as active as he had been, since it made it harder to help others.
“Howard’s many random acts of kindness warmed the hearts of his neighbors as they awoke to a newly mowed lawn or snow-blown driveway,” his family wrote. “His grandchildren appreciated his never-too-busy attitude of dropping anything he was doing to help with the smallest or largest of challenges from home repair to car maintenance. He challenged all to be the people they needed to be.”
“He was the warmest, friendliest, most caring individual,” Ms. Towle-Hilt concluded. “He made you feel really special.”
Howard O. Towle is survived by his daughters, Gloria Towle-Hilt and Deborah Towle Marcil, and son-in-law, Roger Levinthal, of Guilderland. He is survived, too, by his sister, Margaret Caristo; his brother, John Towle; his four grandchildren, Laura Towle-Hilt, David Towle-Hilt and his wife, Mary Towle-Hilt, Elizabeth Hulihan and her husband, Matthew, and Emily Marcil; his two great-grandsons; and many nieces and nephews.
His wife, Gloria Towle, died before him, as did his son-in-law Robert Hilt.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 6 p.m. at St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Guilderland. Arrangements are by the De Marco-Stone Funeral Home in Guilderland; online condolences may be made at www.demarcostonefuneralhome.com.
Memorial contributions may be made to the St. John’s Outreach Center, 88 Fourth Avenue, Albany, NY 12202.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer