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Howard P. Nicholson, a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, dies

Howard Percy Nicholson was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Howard Percy Nicholson was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps. (HANDOUT)

Howard P. Nicholson, a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawyer who had been a Maryland assistant attorney general, died July 28 from amyloidosis and Parkinson’s disease at Brinton Woods Rehabilitation Care Center in Sykesville. The longtime Jessup resident was 65.

Maj. Corey M. Sanders, an Ellicott City resident and U.S. Department of Justice attorney, said, “When I came to the Army Reserve, he was my supervisor. Howard was a brilliant lawyer who had a vast array of skills. He was a problem solver who challenged subordinates and mentored us to be better lawyers. He didn’t want us to be just average lawyers, he wanted us to be better than that."

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“His legal expertise was in criminal law, environmental law and tax law, and he combined all three,” said Julie D. Goodwin, a friend since their days together at the University of Maryland School of Law who is general counsel for Morgan State University. “It was an interesting way of combining all of his interests. They were his passions.”

Howard Percy Nicholson, the son of Roland Nicholson Sr. , a co-owner of Nicholson Bros.' Dry Cleaners on Pennsylvania Avenue and Nicholson’s Alterations Center on West North Avenue, and his wife, Juanita Nicholson, a Baltimore public school educator and member of the city Planning Commission, was born in Baltimore and raised on Wheeler Avenue in the city’s Ashburton neighborhood.

A 1972 graduate of City College, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1976 in accounting from Howard University, his law degree in 1981 from the University of Maryland School of Law.

“In law school, he participated moot court, and Howard’s advocacy skills came out early in his legal career,” said Ms. Goodwin, a Ferndale resident. “In the courtroom, he was dynamic, speedy, creative and very smart on his feet. He had all of the qualities you need to be a good prosecutor.”

After passing the Maryland Bar in 1982, Mr. Nicholson clerked for Baltimore Circuit Judge Solomon Baylor. He was an assistant public defender from 1983 to 1985, when he was appointed an assistant attorney general in the state Department of Natural Resources, where he was chief of the environmental crimes unit.

In 2004, he was appointed an assistant county attorney in Anne Arundel County, a position he held for two years, then joining the EPA in Washington as an attorney adviser in the Office of the Inspector General. He retired in 2018.

Mr. Nicholson also served for two decades as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

“Howard was a father figure to me,” Major Sanders said. “He could relate to soldiers who were not JAG officers. He exuded confidence. He was my beacon. He was a soldier’s soldier.”

When he was growing up, Mr. Nicholson’s interests were riding bicycles, horses and cars.

Family members said during his high school days, his gold Camaro was “well-known on the City College-Western High School circuit,” and when he began his college career, he was in a full leg cast after a horse fell on him.

“The riding theme continued through later in life,” wrote Ms. Goodwin in a biographical profile of Mr. Nicholson.

“He loved Bruno Mars, who he said ‘made it from nothing.’ His favorite song by Mars was ‘That’s What I Like,’ which mentions jumping into the Cadillac and putting miles on it," she wrote. “Just a few years ago, he acquired his own navy-blue Cadillac which was previously owned by his daughter’s granddad, and he called it his baby.”

“He loved his cars and his Corvettes,” Ms. Goodwin said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Nicholson’s daughter, Rachel Goodwin Soto of San Diego, California, described her father as the “most complicated uncomplicated man she knows.”

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“He was a man of contrasts,” Ms. Goodwin wrote. “Howard had an engaging personality but was somewhat reserved. Persons from every walk of life were attracted to him and valued his friendship as much as he enjoyed theirs. People were drawn to him, in part, because he was an accomplished listener.”

She described him as being “generous with others but frugal and low-key with himself.”

“He promoted gatherings with friends and family to break bread and share time,” she wrote. “He was supportive of others’ passions and dreams, both financially and with words of wisdom.”

“Howard was a very unusual person and I’d call him almost a closet introvert. It was never about him," Major Sanders said.

“If you had an anniversary, he’d bring the biggest present. If he saw someone in a restaurant celebrating something, he’d send over a bottle of wine. If there was a donation to be made, he made the largest one,” he said.

“But in this narcissistic and self-centered world, he never wanted the spotlight on him,” Major Sanders said. "It was always about the person being honored. He always wanted to contribute to your happiness and success.”

In addition to his own legal career, he also managed the Nicholson Bros.' Dry Cleaners and several Baltimore family-owned rental properties.

He liked listening to jazz and was a devotee of Italian food. “He ate spaghetti with marinara sauce every day when he could choose his meals,” Ms. Goodwin wrote.

Mr. Nicholson was married to Valerie Craddock, who retired from Potomac Electric Power Co., where she was financial administrator.

“We’ve been together since 1975, but got married one month before his death in the hospital,” Ms. Craddock said.

Mr. Nicholson was an active member of Metropolitan United Methodist Church.

A celebration of life service was held Aug. 17 at Matthew’s 1600 Bar & Restaurant in Catonsville. Plans for interment at Arlington National Cemetery are incomplete.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Nicholson is survived by his son, Joseph Ezekiel Payton of San Diego, California; a brother, Roland Nicholson of New York City; two sisters, LaVerne Nicholson Sykes of Baltimore and Karen Nicholson-Smith of Tampa, Florida; and four grandchildren.

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