It seems that some of the greatest men in our world live lives of quiet nobility. They love their spouse, raise their children, provide for their family, and walk humbly with their God. While it is hard to conceive of a funeral as uplifting, I cannot imagine that a person could have attended my neighbor's funeral without feeling immensely better about the world that it could have created a man such as Eric Howlett.
Nearly everyone who knows me has either met or heard about my neighbor kids, Joseph & Eliza. Their family moved into the next door property adjacent to our north pasture several years ago, and initially I just knew them as pleasant neighbors with several kids. A few years ago, Joseph developed an interest in animals and would often visit when I was working in the barn. His younger sister Eliza was his constant companion at that point, and I came to enjoy & appreciate the company of these two children. Joseph is a steady, quiet, hardworking young man. Eliza has more sass than any child I have ever met. Most of our visits follow a similar agenda: Joseph quietly helps me feed & care for the animals, while Eliza updates me on the daily adventures of being the youngest of five kids, quizzes me on my life decisions, pontificates on why I am still single, and then suggests flavors of ice cream I should keep in stock for her. These two young people hold a prime spot in my heart, and I know that they have done more for me than I could ever do for them.
Remarkable young people do not exist without influential parents. Eliza & Joseph are blessed with a wonderful set of parents. Their mother Chris is a gracious, hardworking woman -- exactly the kind of woman I hope to be if I ever grow up. Their father's intelligence & dedication is obvious in Joseph, and his love for others can be seen in Eliza's giving spirit. Many times Eric would stop by to say hello when he saw me working outside, and he never failed to pitch in and help if he could be of assistance on a job. As Joseph began to develop his own herd of goats, I often interfaced with his parents to provide support to Joseph on this endeavor. I was continually amazed that Joseph's parents encouraged his interest in being a farmer -- even if it was not their particular interest and despite the fact that he eventually took over much of their front yard for his goat operation. What was even more inspiring to me was the way in which these parents showed the same wholehearted support for all five of their children, and never failed to model to them how to live life helping others.
Just as they supported their children's dreams, Eric & Chris supported each other's goals. Eric recently was hired as a commercial pilot, the culmination of a youthful dream & many years of hard work. When I heard of his death, it shook me to the core. I immediately drove down to hug Joseph & Eliza. I eventually learned that their father was flying solo from Chicago and had experienced engine failure. He was attempting to return to Midway airport when his plane crashed in a residential neighborhood. It hit a house -- even leaving debris as close as 8 inches from the bed where the couple was sleeping who lived there -- yet no one else was hurt. The crash was all over the national media, even on the inside cover of my Wall Street Journal.
Eric's memorial service took place over the weekend. There was standing room only for the service. It was truly a testament to the impact which Eric had on people and the love which others have for his family. Two of Eric's brothers read beautiful eulogies written by his mother and by his wife. The one which his mother wrote was full of love, and helped me to appreciate the experiences which formed Eric into the generous individual which I knew. I was absolutely amazed by the strength and grace exhibited by Chris in the words which she wrote about her husband. They truly had a great love story, and that love was evident in the respect & affection with which she described her husband. Chris shared that the remarkable nature of the crash -- a pilot goes down in a residential area and yet he is the only one hurt -- brought her the understanding that he was being very specifically called to God.
Chris is a resilient, beautiful woman, and I have no doubt that she will be a great strength for her children to rely upon. A fund has been set up to benefit the family, and if you were so moved, donations would be sincerely appreciated. They can be directed to the Eric Howlett Family Fund, in care of the Canal Banking Center at 6360 Prentiss School Drive, Canal Winchester OH 43110.
I have been extremely touched by my friends who have reached out to offers prayers & support for my two young friends. In reflecting how I can help Joseph & Eliza, I want to assist in making sure that they can both continue to carry out their dreams. I know that there is great support from an amazing extended family and a fantastic church family, but I also know from my experience of losing parents that when funds are limited they are directed to basic necessities. Knowing the promise that Joseph shows as a farmer, I want to do all I can to ensure that he has the resources needed to carry on with his livestock enterprise. He has a birthday coming up, and I hope to get him a nice gift certificate to our local feed store. If you know me personally, and are able to contribute to help this young farmer, I would be very grateful.
We need more men like Eric Howlett. We need more people who live in such a way that their life serves as an inspiration to others. We need more parents who are completely dedicated to their families. Eliza & Joseph were blessed to have such a man for a father, and I was incredibly fortunate to know him. Eric took the picture of Eliza and Joseph and me at my farm in 2013, and gave it to me as a Christmas gift last year. It hangs in my kitchen, and it is a beautiful reminder of a very happy occasion. Eric was a wonderful neighbor and a good friend, who leaves a remarkable legacy in his five awesome children.