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Howard Bach, "Refreshingly Frank"

By Sylvia Bashline

Most OWAA legend articles are about members who have either changed the world through their superhuman efforts in the conservation field or penned such compelling prose that we grovel at their feet.

Howard Bach did neither. He succeeded in our profession by working hard, improving steadily and gaining our unending respect with his business savvy. Boy, did we ever luck out when he decided to become an outdoor writer. When asked to write an autobiographical piece for OU when he was president in 1987, Howard, comfortable in his skin, was refreshingly frank.

He grew up during the depression in a Pittsburgh area steel town where Andrew Carnegie’s Free Library had a strong influence on his life. It served as a town center with meeting rooms, athletic club and auditorium as well as a fine selection of books and magazines. After World War II, Howard received his engineering degree from Carnegie Tech, again benefiting from Andrew Carnegie’s generosity.

Howard’s parents neither hunted nor fished so he grew up without the benefit of either sport. In mid-life when he became a Boy Scout leader, in a role reversal, his scouts took him fishing and he was hooked.

In 1987, he wrote, “My interest in outdoor writing did not come from a burning desire to see my byline in a sporting magazine. It was a business decision. I noticed that my friends in the tackle business paid for their fishing outings with before-tax dollars, while my expenses on the same trips came from after-tax dollars, a wide variation in the cost of fishing. I decided that my next career move would be into a business where I too had such benefits. Outdoor writing and photography seemed to fit the bill just fine, so I began writing about 20 years ago.”

Howard’s greatest contribution to OWAA was his business expertise. From the time he headed Mark Sosin’s Ethics Committee, through his board and officer years and, especially, his work on several Executive Director Search Committees, he never wavered in using good common sense in solving problems. And he was patient with those of us who didn’t commit as fully.

A tremendously intense man, Howard won people over by being efficient, effective, funny and one heck of a good friend. I loved him dearly but have no idea how Florence could have lived with him all those years. Just too many stories about how he built a new television set from scratch to save money, or how after hours of roadside measuring, taking witness statements, etc., he persuaded a traffic judge he didn’t deserve a $90 ticket. That was Howard; that was the energy he brought to OWAA.

His contemporary presidents offer a few thoughts:

Boyd Pfeiffer, “He gave his all, all the time and continued to give it long after most of us would have given up.” Ed Park, “Sharp, knowledgeable, business-wise.” Joel Vance, “Meticulous and dedicated, a fine fellow and a good friend.” Glenn Sapir, “He knew how to get to the bottom of an issue quickly and how to get it resolved.” Lonnie Williamson, “Howard made an embarrassing premature identification of an awardee at a conference banquet. The next year, he reminded me of it and told me to use it in my remarks. It brought the house down. Not many people would be so self-effacing to help a friend.”

George Harrison was in England at the time of Howard’s death this past spring. He e-mailed his statement that, “The day Howard was buried, I was at Windsor Castle and visited Saint George’s Chapel there for the first time since Howard and I were there in 1986 (following the Harrisburg conference). Kit and I lit a candle for Howard and sat in the same pew. That day, 16 years ago, we had been on a barge in the Thames River and had docked overnight at Windsor. When we awakened on Sunday morning Howard suggested that we walk up to the castle and go to the service. I’m so glad we did.”

So many stories and memories; it’s why you are an OWAA Legend, dear friend. Rest easy.

Sylvia Bashline served as executive director of OWAA from 1984 to 1994.

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