Joe Howell, a prominent attorney and longtime Santa Barbara resident, will be honored as the 80th Person of the Year at a special luncheon hosted by the Santa Barbara Foundation on Wednesday.
This year’s celebration holds special significance for Howell, as it coincides with his 50th wedding anniversary, and marks five decades since he first visited Santa Barbara, driving through on his honeymoon.
Howell and his wife, Barbara, fell in love with the town that they described as “too good to be true,” and vowed to one day make it their home. Forty-nine years ago, they fulfilled that promise and never looked back.
“It was one of the best decisions we ever made,” Howell told Noozhawk. “We love the community and feel very fortunate.”
His deep appreciation for the town and his contributions to the community have not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by his selection as this year’s Person of the Year, along with Elisabeth Fowler.
As a co-founder of the law firm Howell Moore & Gough LLP, where he specializes in business and transaction law, Howell has helped countless local companies while also finding time to give back to his community.
Howell said he started volunteering when his now-adult children were kids, aligning his efforts with their interests: primarily academics and sports.
“I really wanted to get involved in things that made a difference as my kids were growing up,” he recounted.
“I felt that if I gravitated toward causes that would directly or indirectly help my children, then it would be personally rewarding, and maybe I’d get to spend more time with them.”
He started on the sidelines of his kids’ soccer, swimming and water polo competitions, and eventually extended his support to hundreds of local athletes.
Howell joined the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table and the Santa Barbara Athletic Association 30 years ago, and remains active with both. He has encouraged runners and triathletes of all ages, and led by example through his own Ironman and marathon races (he’s competed in at least 17 marathons — he’s lost count!).
Howell’s first formal board service was with the Santa Barbara County Board of Education, where he continues to serve as an elected member more than two decades later.
He is most proud of his efforts on behalf of Partners in Education/Computers for Families, which started as a pilot program at Hollister School in Goleta to provide computers, free of charge, to those in need.
Howell, along with Bill Cirone and Peter MacDougall, co-chaired the $4 million Sustainability Fund to ensure that Computers for Families could operate in perpetuity.
Fifteen years later their efforts continue to have a positive impact on thousands of low-income, local school children, who receive computer hardware, instruction and internet access at no cost.
“Computers for Families is one of the most meaningful things I’ve done,” said Howell, who credits the program’s success to the strong collaboration between Partners in Education and the county Board of Education.
“It’s not easy to raise money, but the key is to be passionate about the cause,” he said. “Share that passion, but also prepare for rejection.”
For Howell, it will be nothing but acceptances when he is honored at Wednesday’s luncheon.
“I was so stunned to be named, and incredibly honored and flattered to join this list of Santa Barbara icons,” he said.
“Every single thing I’ve been a part of, whether it’s fundraising or mission related, is the result of efforts of so many people, and I’m really a proxy for every one of these organizations. This award is really honoring the incredible work of the nonprofits.”
“I may be the coach of the team,” he said. “But it’s the team doing all of the hard work every day.”
Howell will be honored alongside Fowler at the Santa Barbara Foundation Person of the Year Luncheon at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.
The sold-out luncheon is co-sponsored by the foundation; Montecito Bank & Trust; Noozhawk; Cox; Cindy and Steve Lyons; Bartlett, Pringle & Wolf LLP; Katina Zaninovich; American Riviera Bank; and U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.