Dr. Howard S. Williams, a former staff physician at Father Martin's Ashley, a Harford County alcohol and substance abuse treatment center, died May 20 of meningoencephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson.
The Stoneleigh resident was 54.
"We think about Howard every day. Everyone here loved him, " said Dr. Bernadette Solounias, a psychiatrist who is vice president and medical director at Father Martin's Ashley.
"He was very compassionate and took very good care of our patients and was unfailingly patient with them," said Dr. Solounias.
The son and grandson of physicians, Dr. Williams was born in Baltimore and when he was 8 moved to Boulder, Colo.
After graduating in 1976 from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., he earned a bachelor's degree in 1980 from Duke University. He was a 1984 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
"I think he got interested in medicine in his teenage years. He saw what I was doing and decided to go into medicine," said his father, Dr. M. Lee Williams, a retired Baltimore otolaryngologist and former professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Howard had always been a very caring person and wanted to help people."
From 1984 to 1986, Dr. Williams completed internships in general surgery and internal medicine at Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Va.
Dr. Williams began his career in 1986, where he worked for a year as an emergency clinic physician at Lewis-Gale Immediate Care Centers in Roanoke.
He moved to Baltimore in 1987 and completed a residency in ophthalmology in 1990 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was an associate ophthalmologist from 1990 to 1997 with Dr. George W. Duncan in Towson.
"My outstanding impression and memory of Howard as a practicing ophthalmologist was how much his patients loved him. That was his talent. He was an incredibly personable man," said Dr. Duncan. "Even though he left the practice many years ago, patients still ask me how he's doing."
From 1990 to 1993, Dr. Williams was a volunteer ophthalmologist at Richard E. Hoover Rehabilitation Services for Low Vision and Blindness at GBMC, and regional director of Physicians Laboratories from 1997 to 2001.
Dr. Williams became increasingly hamstrung by insurance regulations that limited time spent with patients and also required an increasing patient load, said Dr. Duncan.
"He said he got out because he didn't enjoy having to rush with patients," said Dr. Duncan, "so he got back into medicine a different way."
In 2001, Dr. Williams decided on a career change when he became a staff physician at Father Martin's Ashley in Havre de Grace.
"With his work at Father Martin's Ashley, he was able to treat the whole person and not just the eyes. He wanted to help heal the whole person," said his wife of 19 years, the former Pamela Willingham, a financial adviser with the Hunt Valley office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
"He had both passion and compassion for those who had alcohol and substance abuse issues. His patients loved him," said his wife.
"Every year, Father Martin's has a reunion of former patients and Howard would attend. They'd come up to him and say, 'Thank you for saving my life,' and he'd say, 'No, you did it,'" she said. "He was a true gentleman and very humble."
"Howard learned about addiction medicine when he came here. He had a great bedside manner and you could tell that he cared about people," said Dr. Solounias. "And when he had challenging individuals, he was very patient with them. He spent time with them. He listened because he wanted to know what was going on."
She praised Dr. Williams' thoroughness.
"He was a good doc and very thorough. He never guessed at a diagnosis. He'd do his research, gather information, and then would come up with a good plan," she said.
Dr. Solounias said his popularity even extended to the staff.
"They knew they could come and talk to him about personal problems and ask questions," she said.
Because of failing health, Dr. Williams retired last year.
"Howard was the epitome of a Southern gentleman. That was the embodiment of who he was," said Nancy Grund Harman, a longtime friend and Stoneleigh neighbor. "He was soft-spoken and humble, and the kindest, most thoughtful person I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Just a lovely person."
He was a member of the Society of Cincinnati.
Dr. Williams enjoyed sailing, fishing and crabbing in the Rappahannock River at Irvington, Va.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 16 at Grace Fellowship Church, 9505 Deereco Road, Timonium.
In addition to his wife and father, who lives in Irvington, Va., Dr. Williams is survived by two daughters, Kathryn S. Williams and Amy L. Williams, both of Stoneleigh; a stepdaughter, Allison K. Leonard of Cincinnati; his stepmother, Katherine R. Williams of Irvington, Va.; two brothers, David L. Williams of Timonium and Philip L. Williams of Irvington, Va.; two sisters, Jenny W. Robinson of Bellingham, Wash., and Frances L. Butler of Centennial, Colo.; and many nieces and nephews.