January 16, 2022

Death Announced of Jean Murphy Howard of Old Lyme, Mother of Lee Howard of ‘The Day’

Jean Murphy Howard 1932-2021

OLD LYME — Jean Murphy Howard, one of the great local volunteers and a brilliant teacher, gardener, hostess, cook and conversationalist, died Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, at age 89, at Massachusetts General Hospital after a short illness. She had recently moved to Plymouth, Mass., to be near her daughter after spending more than two decades as a full-time resident of Old Lyme.

Born Doris Jean Murphy on Oct. 16, 1932, to James Russell Murphy and Doris Haines Murphy, Jean (she hated “Doris”) lived for many years at the Hawks Nest Beach cottage she transformed into a beautiful home. She was best known locally for volunteer work at the Nearly New consignment shop in Old Lyme, associated with St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, where she did much of the data entry and tagging up until the last few months. The shop brought in tens of thousands of dollars each year to help support the church.She also spent many hours heading up efforts to beautify the church as one of the most active members of the garden committee, and during her time here, she became a master gardener by taking a series of courses through the UConn Extension Service.

She also spent thousands of hours as part of the church’s sewing group making dresses for girls in Haiti and, during the pandemic, churning out dozens of colorful masks for the community on her old Singer sewing machine. Many of her dresses are still hanging at St. Ann’s, awaiting the time when overseas travel is not so difficult.

In addition, she worked tirelessly for a nonprofit called Days for Girls that brought sanitary female supplies to remote places around the world, and she was a big supporter of the Chelly Foundation that did charitable work in Cambodia, named after a lifelong friend who taught her to sew many years ago. She gave an inspiring speech about their friendship at a Chelly Foundation fundraiser just a few years ago in New York City.

Jean was always the first to dive into a challenge, and nothing ever stopped her. She was one of the most determined people you will ever meet, and was quite opinionated, but she was never pushy or arrogant. She was always supportive of her children’s and grandchildren’s interests, and would inevitably attend the events that were important to them.

In addition, she was widely read and could converse on a wide range of topics, from popular music to sports to politics. Jean was very disappointed in the direction of the country in recent years as she could never excuse belligerence or lying by anyone, including politicians.

Jean lived a fascinating and wide-ranging life, right from her early childhood as the daughter of an accomplished Washington, D.C., tax attorney who would go on to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jean was an excellent student, winning a national high school journalism contest. She spent World War II on her grandfather’s farm in Arlington, Va., as her father spent long stretches in England, where he led the X-2 counterintelligence agency for the Office of Strategic Services, the United States’ first spy agency.

“We always had spies over for dinner on Sunday nights,” she said.

During and after the war, Jean, always reliable, helped several top spies, including the famed Jim Angleton, as a babysitter. She would later chuckle about chatting on the phone and hearing a series of clicks, indicating the device was tapped by the FBI. “Those poor guys having to listen in on all my teenage crushes,” she’d laugh.

Jean graduated from Wellesley College in 1954 with a major in French. At Wellesley, she was well known for winning the lead role in most of the drama productions. In 2019, Jean attended her 65th Wellesley reunion, rubbing elbows with younger fellow graduates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright.

After graduation from Wellesley, she worked a year at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where her typing and language skills came in handy. She spent a year at Yale University doing postgraduate work before marrying Kingston Lee Howard, a Harvard Business School graduate, in February 1956. They had met at a Wellesley-Harvard mixer a few years before. King and Jean’s marriage was announced on national television by the famed broadcaster Arthur Godrey, who was Jean’s godfather, family friend and baby-sitting client.

King and Jean settled at first in the Boston area before buying a house in Lexington, Mass., where they raised two children. When the children got older, Jean began teaching French at the elementary and high school level in both Lexington and, later, in Atlanta, Ga. She was a natural, using her creativity and dramatic flair to engage students of all ages.

King was president of the Brigham’s restaurant chain and later became vice president of Star Market, head of Howard Johnson’s international hotel division and president of Days Inn. Jean threw herself into supporting her husband’s business career, hosting and hobnobbing with many of the leading businessmen in Boston during the 1960s to 1990s, translating business letters and mastering Lotus 1-2-3, one of the early accounting programs.

Jean handled all the French translations as King established his Euro Disney office south of Paris to help attract American hotel executives to the massive project. She regularly traveled to help King host parties and events there.

She was the mainstay of her husband’s consultancy, International Management Services, and assisted him in preparing reports, market analyses and business correspondence. She was among the first people in the country to become a Certified Hotel Manager. Later, she assisted her daughter Debbie for several years at Benchmark Senior Living by creating model rooms that gave a homey look to the company’s assisted living facilities.

Jean enthusiastically embraced domestic life with the same energy she had invested in her studies and work life. She studied French cooking thanks to Julia Child, and also took a strong interest in oriental cuisine. But the bulk of her cooking approach was inherited from her Southern relatives, one of whom owned a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Everyone loved and appreciated the warm kindness of Jean’s hospitality, whether at the condominium she later acquired on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston or at her Old Lyme beach house that she came to alternately call the “Howard Hotel” or “Camp Howard.” Jean moved to the Old Lyme house permanently a few years after the death of her husband in 1993, and she regularly entertained family and friends there, engaging all in convivial conversation.

The family is currently compiling a cookbook based on many of Jean’s recipes, which included the best Christmas cookies and applesauce in the world. Her apricot pie recipe was recently featured in a column by Lee White in the local Times papers.

Jean leaves many bereaved friends and relatives, including son Lee Howard and partner Libby Friedman of Waterford; daughter Debbie Howard of Plymouth, Mass.; a brother, James R. “Chip” Murphy II of Cedar Springs, Mich.; a niece, Heather Murphy, also of Michigan; and grandsons, Evan and Nathan Howard of East Lyme; and James (wife Becca) and Scott Baldassari of Massachusetts.

Cartmell-Davis Funeral Home of Plymouth, Mass., is in charge of arrangements.

A memorial service and Celebration of Life for Jean Howard is scheduled at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 29, at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, 82 Shore Road, Old Lyme. A reception at the church will follow. Donations can be sent in Jean’s memory to Days for Girls (daysforgirls.org) or the Chelly Foundation (thechellyfoundation.org), or can be mailed c/o Lee Howard, 21 Lloyd Road, Waterford, CT 06385.

Jean will be buried next to her husband King at Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme.


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