Dr. William Howard, surgeon and sports medicine expert, dies

Dr. William W. B. Howard co-founded the sports medicine center at Union Memorial Hospital.

Dr. William H. B. "Bill" Howard, a general surgeon and sports medicine expert, died Sunday moments after he stepped out of his truck while driving in Anne Arundel County. Family members said he suffered a heart attack or stroke.

He was 81 and had spent his life on his family's Olney Farm in the Wilna section of Harford County.


The longtime medical director and a co-founder of MedStar Union Memorial's Sports Medicine Clinic, he once defined an athlete as "someone who is an athlete, was an athlete, wants to be an athlete or reads Sports Illustrated."

"He was beloved," said a colleague, Dr. Allen Jensen. "He was basically Mr. Union Memorial Hospital for all those years."


Born in Baltimore at the hospital he served for decades, he was the son of William Hand Brown Howard, a colonel in the Army Chemical Corps, and Harriet Van Bibber Shriver, who bred Shetland ponies and ran the family farm.

He was a direct descendant of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard. Family members said he loved Maryland traditions. They also said he remained a down-to-earth person.

"He took great pride in and loved knowing people," said son-in-law Gadi Dechter. "He had a good bedside manner with everything in his life."

He began his education in a one-room school and went on to attend Gilman School and was a graduate of St. Andrew's School in Delaware. He attended Duke University and earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University. At times, he also played lacrosse and football. He was the medical adviser to Gilman School athletic teams for many years.

He was a 1963 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Before medical school, he had thoughts of spending his life as a country doctor but changed his mind. He traveled in a black Ford pickup truck — with 300,000-plus miles on the odometer — and rarely wore a tie.

He met his wife, Amabel Lee Mommers, on a blind date while they were in high school.

He did his residency in general surgery and orthopedics at Harrisburg Hospital in Pennsylvania and returned to Baltimore, where he ran the emergency room at what is now MedStar Union Memorial Hospital.

While in the emergency room, he observed young athletes seeking medical attention that his staff didn't have the knowledge or time to provide, according to a 1994 Baltimore Sun article.


He and Drs. Joe Martire, a radiologist, and Roger Michael, then chief of orthopedics, asked hospital officials if they could start a sports medicine clinic. It began in 1979.

"At that time, we were down the street from the old Memorial Stadium, and so many of the athletes would come in," said Neil A. MacDonald, who was the center's first physical therapist and athletic trainer and is now a MedStar vice president. "He had an unbelievable work ethic. He was at the hospital 100 hours a week, at least. He had been raised on a farm, and it showed. He was a down-to-earth, solid guy, not pretentious, who related to the average athlete. His patients absolutely loved him."

Dr. Howard began his days at 5:30 a.m., family members said. He bypassed elevators and habitually ran up and down stairs at the hospital. He did not take vacations but would perhaps take an extra day or two around Labor Day.

Dr. Howard was a founding member of the Baltimore Rugby Club and played for 28 years. A biographical sketch prepared by his hospital said that "that association afforded him considerable experience in sports injuries, mostly his own."

"I personally have had every sports injury known to man," he told The Sun in 1992. The article said he had broken his nose 11 times, had four concussions, torn up both knees, lost a tooth, and broken an ankle and a big toe.

"He had a booming physical presence and personality," said friend Stanley Heuisler, former Baltimore magazine editor. "He was one of a group of doctors whose work and influence helped elevate Union Memorial medically from a local neighborhood hospital to the status it enjoys today."

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He also enjoyed bluegrass music and the blues. He once took violin lessons at the Peabody Conservatory.

"He put the violin away because he said he could never make it sound the way he wanted it to," said daughter Anne Dechter of Washington, D.C.

He retired from Union Memorial in 2014. The dinner given in his honor at the Hopkins Club lasted hours as speakers celebrated Dr. Howard's years at the hospital. He remained active on the staff at the Upper Chesapeake Orthopedic Specialty Group.

In 1992, he gave advice to a weekend athlete: "If you want to be an athlete, don't ever stop. Do it all year round. If you stop and do it once in a while, you'll get hurt."

A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Olney Farm, 1001 Old Joppa Road.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 62 years; three other daughters, Patti Fenwick of Reisterstown, Kate Perri of Wilna and Tarry McGuirk of Bel Air; a sister, Frances Flatau, also of Wilna; and 14 grandchildren.