Tommie Howell roasted to ‘well-done’

Published 7:11 pm Friday, February 6, 2015


Tommie Howell stands with a mystery roaster, his sister Carol Lewis. — Carolyn Iamon

They said it couldn’t be done — that nothing could be stirred up to use as fire in the pit to roast the beloved, soft-spoken BHS principal, Tommie Howell.
But ‘they’ were wrong. They didn’t reckon with the sleuthing powers of Suzi Bonifay, nor of the vivid memories of Howell’s 1976 high school classmates, nor of his sister, Carol Lewis, who turned out to be the mystery roaster.
Bonifay acted as emcee at the annual Pilot Club roast Thursday evening,  and pulled off a few of her own jokes on her friend and colleague.
She began by describing Howell as a man who likes to fly under the radar, explaining that he consented to subject himself to the good-natured ribbing only due to his love and respect for his late mother, Vernice, and her devotion to the Pilot Club.
Photos of Howell’s early childhood were shown and frequent references made to his early and ongoing interest in science and academics in general.
Carlton Gainous, a classmate and life-long friend, spoke of how he and Howell first met at Hutto Jr. High School in the eighth grade. “He was kind of a snob,” said Gainous, “who always gave the impression that he was smarter than I was.”  He often referred to being on the receiving end of what he called Howell’s “cold stare.”
This intellectual rivalry continued through their high school and community college years as Gainous pursued the athletic route and Howell went for academics.
They went to different universities. Howell chose FSU, Gainous to UGA. Both began their teaching careers at Hutto. “I’m teaching physical education and he’s teaching science,” said Gainous, reinforcing the athletic vs. academic rivalry.
They remained good friends moving to BHS together for seven years until Gainous moved to Cairo High School as athletic director and assistant principal. The Cairo-Bainbridge athletic rivalry was always a source of contention, with Gainous receiving “the cold stare” whenever Cairo won.
The ‘Cold Stare’ became a bit of a theme as other roasters spoke.
Howell’s sister, Carol Lewis, began her remarks by saying “He’s been working on that stare all his life.”
Lewis told of Tommie coming along a few years after she and brother Sam and that he never seemed to get in trouble for anything, while they always did. “He was always the baby,” said Lewis.
She spoke of his early science interests and a science experiment gone wrong when he attempted to make toys from a plastic mold kit. “You were supposed to heat them in a low oven,” she explained. But, when the house filled with back smoke it was discovered he had put the oven on broil and the resulting melt-down was a complete mess.
“But he never got in trouble,” said Lewis, who recounted another episode when he was 8. Unbeknown to anyone else he ordered collector stamps from a catalogue and when the bill arrived, instead of mother being angry with Tommie, she called the seller and read them the riot act for selling to an 8-year-old.
Lewis concluded by saying over the years he worked and studied hard and went from Precious to Precocious to Principal. She told him, “You’ve come a long way, Baby.”
Another roaster, Gary Breedlove, spoke of the relationship that developed during the years when he was director of the Jr. ROTC program at BHS . “We always engaged in a mutual low key competition to surprise each other,” said Breedlove. He described Howell as a fantastic principal, referencing outstanding BHS students who went on to graduate from military academies and Harvard.
Bonifay closed the evening with humorous references to Howell’s styling issues, especially his large collection of purple clothing and demonstrating how to dress like a Bearcat. A large poster next to the speaker’s table showed him as a Man of the Year cover subject for a GQ magazine.
On the serious side, Bonifay called Howell “A wonderful man” who has dedicated his life to education and building relationships with his students. “He knows the names of all 1500 students at the high school.”
In rebuttal, Howell lived up to his reputation as a man of few words. He thanked the Pilot Club for the honor and reiterated his mother’s activity with the Pilot Club and of the club’s interaction with the high school.

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