Faculty of Science

Commemorating Professor Peter Howell

On June 13, family, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate and reminisce about the life and work of Professor Walter Colston (Pete) Howell with a memorial which turned out to be an enlightening display of affection.

Howell periodic table unveiled

From left - Family members daughter Lesley Purdom, sons Pete Howell and Fraser Howell unveiling the table. Hidden from view is Peter Howell's wife Helene Polatajko-Howell.

From his initiation as a Western Science freshman in 1946 to a professor of Chemistry and a senior administrator, Howell was affiliated with the university for 65 years, save for three years (including two years of postdoctoral studies at the University of Nottingham).

As a chemistry professor, Howell was known for his down to earth approach and willingness to engage in active listening with his students, graduate and undergraduate alike.  This made learning organic chemistry less intimidating and research studies more productive.

The Howell memerial Periodic Table

Photo taken by: Felix Lee

The Peter Howell Memorial Periodic Table

Pete Howell contributed leadership and strong governance at Western first as Assistant Dean of Science and eventually as a formative member of the Senate where he served as Secretary. His wisdom and imagination served the organisation well, making it possible to implement the University of Western Ontario Acts of 1967 and 1974. After his retirement in 1994, he continued to attended departmental functions and was actively involved with Western until his passing in 2011.

To commemorate his contributions to the university, the Chemistry Department built a picnic-style bench featuring a colourful periodic table. Department Chair, Kim Baines commented that Howell, “loved to talk to people, to sit down and chat to provide advice, to listen to people”. She credits Mel Usselman with the wonderfully appropriate idea for the memorial piece. Prof. Howell’s youngest son, Fraser, was touched by the gesture.  “I thought that it was fitting tribute to my father” he said.

John Vanstone, John Aukema and Jeff Cassidy from Chemistry’s Electronics Shop designed the table. The table contains an array of LEDs underneath the tiles to make it glow. Each individual element tile took a laser printer five hours to fabricate.  Chemists have a tradition of referring to each other by three initials and the table has carried on the custom, highlighting the elements WCH. This unique piece will remain as a permanent installation in the MSA Atrium.