Obituary of Samuel Austin Howell
April 20, 2021
Obituary: Samuel Austin Howell.
Born, November 3, 1961.
Finally Escaped Gravity's Drag, April 20, 2021.
On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, the human world contracted, as our beloved husband, brother, and friend Samuel Austin Howell passed at the age of 59. Still, the universe itself that day undoubtedly expanded, as Sam's magnificent soul rejoined the ether where, without doubt, he continues to dominate.
Sam was preceded in death by his parents, Mary Raugust (Howell) and A. Ervin Howell. He is survived by his beloved wife, Mary Peppito; siblings Nicholas Jordan (Debora Smith), SarahJolliffe (Dale), Eve Howell, Aaron Howell, Elias Howell, and Eduardo Byrnes; his mother-in-law, Cathleen Peppito, his sisters-in-law, Julie Peppito (Gideon Kendall) and Ann Swift (Robert); his nephews, Liam Howell, Kelly Swift, and Milo Peppito, and his nieces Jillian and Clare Jordan
and Molly Swift.
Sam was born on November 3, 1961, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He mostly grew up in Massachusetts, but lived in York, Maine for one year. He attended Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA, and graduated high school from Milton Academy in 1979. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Northwestern University in 1984, and his Juris Doctor from Cardozo School of Law in 1993. He practiced law with the Legal Aid Society in New York City for 28 years as a public defender for many thousands of cases, finishing as a Senior Trial Attorney.
On August 23, 1997 (thank Christ!), Sam married his beloved wife, Mary Peppito. A faithful and adoring husband, Sam shared Mary's love for dogs and the beach. Mary introduced Sam to owning dogs and from then on, he could not have imagined living without them. He leaves Duncan, whom he worshipped, in Mary's loving care. Sam was a larger-than-life figure to (Blind) Steve Hudson, Sadie, a sensitive Dalmation esthete, Spike, an amazing amiable Doberman
mix, and Remedios, a tender and terrified yellow lab mix.
Sam took rapturous pride in Mary's tireless efforts as an advocate for expanded voter registration, and in her reputation as a fierce colleague in the Legal Aid Society. Sam had a huge presence and was passionate about all of life. His staggering sense of humor never left him. He took great pleasure in making others laugh loud, long, and hard, and even if you only met Sam once, his comic, cutting presence was likely to stay with you forever. His personal style extended to cut-off dress shirts, widely known as "The Howell Cut." His powerful six-foot one-inch frame, chiseled chin and blonde hair were not easily forgotten.
Sam had a terrifyingly large vocabulary. He was a Scrabble fanatic and would want it pointed out at some point here that he "dominated," a verb indeed applying to most of Sam's actions. He was a prodigious pun producer who relished rewriting song titles and lyrics, savaging the Beatles songbook, among countless others, for example, with his version of "Let Them Ski," but most of his other parodies are too blue to publish here. A natural musical talent who sang beautifully and played the piano by ear, Sam found a constant spiritual companion in the music he listened to. He was a voracious reader of contemporary fiction and non-fiction, The New York Post and The New York Times. And all of life seemed a stage for Sam, who before his splendid career as a public defender had enjoyed an acting career that stretched from Chicago to Manhattan, and to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Sam often described himself as "the best 17 year-old Creon ever," after playing as a high school senior, the weary, wrinkled uncle in Antigone. At Northwestern University he shone in such varied fare as the musical Pippin, the Harold Pinter masterpiece Betrayal, Sam Shepard's classic family gothic tragedy Buried Child, and Joe Orton's uproarious farce, What the Butler Saw. After graduation, Sam took a quick turn playing Santa Claus at the Schaumburg IL Toyota dealership. He had a recurring TV role as Carl the chauffeur on the soap opera One Life to Live.
He was a founding member of the Alchemy Theatre Company in NYC, where he appeared in Pinter's The Dumbwaiter, Savage Amusement, and Runyon on Wry. As a member of the Pan-Asian Repertory Theatre in NYC, he appeared in Once is Never Enough and at theEdinburgh Festival. Sam ignored and mocked his training as a member of the original cast of the Groundlings East Improvisational Group in NYC, though he did perform with them to great acclaim… despite them, as he might put it. That acting and improvisational experience, and Sam's time ferociously and comically tending bar at Fiddler Green in Chicago, and in Manhattan at The Beach Café on the Upper East Side, and Kronies, was a proving ground for his later memorable performances in the Bronx courtroom.
For his entire life, beyond all earthly reason and logic, Sam loved the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, and the Boston Bruins. In his later years, and in primo combative Sam style, he also relished the schadenfreude of living in the heart of NYC at a time when New England sports flourished. A champion schoolboy wrestler, Sam himself was an avid skier, golfer, and squash player, and brought a fierce competitive spirit to every contest he engaged in. This feverish activity extended to the courtroom, where he battled creatively, passionately and brilliantly for his Legal Aid clients, the poorest, least-privileged population. He worked tirelessly as a public defender, always fighting for justice, dignity, and compassion for his clients.
Sam loved his job, despite often being quoted as saying how much he hated people (no one bought that). His love of theater, keen intellect and quick wit is likely what made him such an accomplished public defender. From an early age, Sam was the patriarchal figure in a large, complicated family. He always mediated for the good of everyone, always provided material and spiritual support, and always gave wise, firm, and loving counsel.
He loved vacationing throughout his entire life at the same beach house on Cape Cod which his family visited in his childhood. Nothing made him happier than to be surrounded by close friends and family on the gorgeous, unpredictable, savage Truro coast, knowing an evening lay ahead full of plenty of good food and drink, great banter, charades and game playing, and late-night eating; macaroni & cheese, oodles of noodles and perhaps with Sam cooking up a batch of his
famous fish chowdah.
Rabelaisian in his bawdy appetite and humor, to those that knew him best, Sam was also Hemingway-esque in the way he lived so vigorously and humorously in outward appearance, while his soul was often secretly saddened by human struggle and sadness, his own, and everybody else's. Still, like the peerless entertainer he was, Sam left all his world wanting just one thing: more Sam.
There is a large online collection of photos of Sam at
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My most sincere and deepest condolences to Sam's wife, Mary Peppito, and his family, colleagues and friends!
Posted by: Adria Abbate - Staten Island, NY - May 21, 2021
Sam, I will miss you. Always offered me a friendly smile and a warm welcome.
Posted by: Adrienne Giunta - Bronx, NY - May 21, 2021
I am so sorry to hear this news. I was a classmate of Sam's at Milton--and I also saw him a few times in York Harbor, Me. where my family has a summer house. I haven't seen him in ages but always enjoyed his company. Congrats to him on all he accomplished but the world is lesser place without him. Ugh. Hugs to his family and his dogs, bunny
Posted by: Bunny Mauran Merrill - morrisville, VT - May 21, 2021
I knew Sam at Shady Hill School and when he lived in York, Maine. I have an indelible memory of him in the role of the Captain of the "Pinafore" in our 8th grade play. I knew him as a smart, funny friend, but I am sorry not to have known him as an adult. As a man, he clearly still had the boy that I remember within him. We are all diminished by losing him. Rest in Peace, Sam.
Posted by: Kate (Reid) Koeze - York, ME - August 2, 2021