The Greatest Honor: Robert Howe, M.D. ’58
Robert Howe, Union’s 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award winner, had the grades, the smarts and the desire – but not the means – to go to Union. Then Jonathan Pearson III ’42, the College’s director of admissions, “came traveling up the valley,” to talk to promising high school students in Little Falls, NY.
Howe was direct: “I said, ‘You can talk, but I can’t afford it.”
Fortunately, he garnered enough in scholarships and grants from the College and other groups to make Union possible. Grateful for that support, Howe has been giving generously to Union since his freshman year – never missing a year.
More recently, he made the College both owner and beneficiary of a $1 million life insurance policy to endow a chair in developmental biology in honor of one of his mentors, Professor Raymond Rappaport.
Now a professor himself, teaching medicine at the University of Minnesota, Howe was a dual biology and chemistry major who thrived on the close-knit relationships he formed in Union’s science department.
He was inspired by the faculty, particularly Rappaport and Francis Lambert in biology and Egbert Bacon and the late Howard Sheffer in chemistry. It was Rappaport who encouraged him to attend the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, Maine, where Howe worked for several summers with cutting-edge biologists such as Fred Berglund from the renowned Karolinska Institute in Sweden, one of Europe’s largest medical universities.
At Union, Howe’s passion for science, medicine and research grew so strong he applied to medical school after only three years.
“Fortunately, I didn’t get in,” he said. “I came back to Union, and it was the best year of my intellectual life. I had only one required course, so I took music, art, history of modern warfare with Professor Bill Dody – just stuff. I read a novel a week. Senior year was an enriching, maturing experience. Without it, I probably would have been a nerd. Maybe I still am, but I would have been a narrower nerd.”
Howe graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1962 and worked for the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and the U.S. Public Health Service before joining the Minnesota faculty in 1970. In addition to teaching, he is a hematologist who currently is studying etiology and treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).
The former Mohawk Valley student returns to the Union campus regularly.
“I try to go to Homecoming every year,” he said. Next to receiving his alumni award at last year’s Homecoming, “the only greater honor was receiving my degree from Union.”
A volunteer’s world: Here’s Howe he does it
Robert Howe ’58 loves giving his time and energy to Union.
He is chairman of the Ramée Circle Society, president of the Minneapolis Alumni Club, a member of the Alumni Physicians Advisory Board and an Annual Fund volunteer.
He also is a former Terrace Council Chair and class representative to the Alumni Council, and, eager to spread the Union word, he has helped Admissions in recruiting students from his home state.
At ReUnion ’98, his 40th class year, Howe and his wife, Sondra, a musician and piano educator, captivated audiences with their lecture-demonstration, “Music, Medicine and Mozart.” The program was so successful the Howes reprised it at other alumni gatherings.