Ed. note: This material was compiled for inclusion in the Blount County Heritage book. We print it here in memory of Molly and in anticipation of Aimee Wilson assuming the role of owner of The Blount Countian.
In declining health, Oneonta native and former newspaper owner-publisher Molly Howard (1926-2018) moved to Enterprise, Ala., to reside with family after her 2010 retirement and sale of the once family-owned The Blount Countian newspaper. Her parents, Rice Milford Howard (1899-1964) and Mary Lou Boazman Howard (1898-1976) owned and published The Southern Democrat, founded in 1894 by Forney Gilmore Stephens (1872-1939), husband to Rice’s aunt, Annie Rice Stephens (1882-1958). Mr. Howard had initially purchased a part ownership in 1939 from Gilmore Stephens, one of Forney’s four children.
A Blount County High School graduate, Molly attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn) and graduated summa cum laude from Judson College. Following graduation, she taught school in Florida, before returning to Oneonta to join her parents in the publication of The Southern Democrat, later renamed The Blount Countian. Following her mother’s death, the then Molly Howard (Mrs. Calvin C.) Ryan became editor-publisher, later joined by her only child Lisa Ryan (James, Jr.) Still, a co-owner until Lisa’s death in 2005.
Molly’s earthly remains lie in Epiphany Memorial Prayer Garden at Guntersville’s Episcopal Church of the Epiphany.
My time with Molly Howard was some of the best in my life. She was my news reporter editor, my friend, a surrogate mother, and much more that words cannot describe. We met shortly after my own mother’s passing.
I felt very quickly she was a kindred spirit for me. Over our time together we laughed, cried, explored and experienced richly. I cherish that time.
She told me good news writing requires “grinding thought” to “hem it up.” I often remind myself of the necessity to hem up whatever through the effort of grinding thought.
I met Molly in February 1980. She was the sophisticated owner, publisher, editor of The Southern Democrat, and I the inexperienced manager of a local accounting office. Something clicked between us, and we became friends. Over the next 30 plus years the things we shared made happy memories.
She introduced me to The Christian Science Monitor. I introduced her to Ellis Peters and her Brother Cadfael mysteries. We heard Elie Weisel lecture at a Birmingham Jewish temple where we felt we were the only Gentiles. She told me about the Shakers as we drove to their restored religious community in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. We traveled to Birmingham on Sundays for 7:30 a.m. services at her, soon to be our, beloved Episcopal Church. On Wednesdays after the newspaper was printed, we met for lunch, and she would tell me about the “good” stuff in that week’s paper.
We also held discussions of current events. Molly seemed to know everything going on in the world. Newspapers, magazines, and press releases often littered her desk. If I had dinner at her house, we practiced quiet time during what is now “The News Hour” on PBS and on Fridays’ “Washington Week in Review”. So, I should not have been surprised when the Alabama Symphony began to play Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” she leaned over and whispered, “Star Wars”. How did she know that the opening of “The Planets” sounded like the theme from “Star Wars?” While we had seen many movies on Saturday afternoons, we had never seen “Star Wars”. Somehow, someway, in typical Molly fashion, she knew. I miss her.
-Linda York Bynum
Molly remained completely dedicated to the memory of her parents and their newspaper she inherited. She worked day and night to make her parents proud, and she did.
During all this hard work, she retained a sense of fairness, understanding and compassion. She treated her staff as family. Through all the ups and downs, as with any business, she never lost her sense of humor. Her appreciation of a good joke brought forth that beautiful laugh which was contagious.
Her faith remained strong even through the death of her daughter, Lisa, and son-in-law, Jim, both within 24 hours. She held fast to her many friends for support but also inspired them with her faith throughout that unbelievable tragedy.
Molly Howard was a remarkable woman. All her friends (and those we will never know) will cherish her memory with joy and love to have been a part of her life!
Molly and I shared serious conversations over decades. A wonderful listener and great encourager, she likely would have made an excellent therapist. Many of us found her a friend extraordinaire.
She dedicated much of her life to the newspaper, often spending seven days a week and countless hours crafting it into one of the best weeklies in the state. She took just pride in its long history and defended it vigorously.
I often applied the term “steel magnolia” to Molly. When competitors arose, she used her business savvy to increase the paper’s profile and tap down any advantages would-be usurpers might have. With that, however, Molly also offered the best of traditional southern manners and appreciation of those around her.
Many journalists look with disdain on writing obituaries. Molly spent considerable time on them, seeking just the right words to describe the person and assure a dignified, thoughtful memorial for family and friends. She insisted on returning to Oneonta to pen the obituary for former Lester Memorial Methodist Church pastor and friend Bert Goodwin.
Molly Howard was one of my dearest friends and virtually inherited family member. As next-door neighbors, the Howards and Nashes were often intertwined. Beyond any obstacles in her life, Molly maintained the joy that only a deeply spiritual person could have. She continued as a very special, intelligent friend to the end of her life. She never relinquished that sweet personality or her unique sense of humor.
-Jimmie Roberson (Mrs. Hugh A.) Nash
I knew Molly Howard Ryan for nearly as long as I can recall, beginning with our association at Lester Memorial Methodist Church. While pastor Bert Goodwin initially declined my request, as a high school student, to start a junior (grades 4-6) choir, he later relented after Molly had agreed to be the adult leader and accompanist.
Molly and I made periodic trips to Educators’ Music Supply in Sylacauga to select music. The choir met one afternoon a week after school and sang an anthem for each Sunday night service.
Two of those former choir members have reminisced of Molly as a wonderful teacher who insisted they learn Bible verses. That wasn’t just a “home” assignment, but one which she supervised at the church, even individually if required.
Once you made a connection with Molly, it lasted a lifetime. I might see her after months apart, but she would inquire with genuine concern about me and my family’s well being.
-Beverly Brittain Ellis
When Calvary Episcopal Church was established in Oneonta in 2002, Molly Howard called it a blessing.
An adherent of that Christian denomination since early adulthood, Molly worshipped at Episcopal churches in nearby counties until becoming one of the original supporters of the local parish.
Molly’s assurance of the divine was exemplary in her regular worship attendance where she sat near the center front of the nave, facing the altar, near choir and organ. She was always reverently observant, alert, often smiling. She appreciated classical music and generously expressed her gratitude for selections sung and played. She shared many a good word with each in a succession of priests and was often consulted regarding her opinions of sermons and ceremony. She shared her spiritual strength with Calvary’s family of worshippers.
Molly supported the ministry of her church with tithes, offerings and her enthusiasm for life. She was a member of Episcopal Church Women, attending their monthly meetings and sharing ideas about community service.
Loyalty to God and to spiritual and ethical values was part of Molly Howard’s identity. She, in turn, identified with the congregation and mission of Calvary Episcopal Church.
-Josephine Sellers Rouse
If it weren’t for Molly Howard Ryan, Hope House would never have been able to be what we are nor do what we do. As an example, she called one morning and said ‘I need to see you in my office in 15 minutes.’
I was ushered immediately to her office upon arriving, and Molly said ‘Bud, there’s a health clinic in Gadsden that gets government subsidies to assist poor people.’ She gave me materials and details and said ‘You need to call and see this man. Now, go and get it all set up.’
When I telephoned him he offered me 15 minutes the next morning. Ninety minutes after having arrived in Gadsden, I returned to Oneonta with a signed agreement to set up a clinic in the Family Services Mall here.
Somehow Molly always had information and frequently relevant detailed statistics on matters you’d never even thought about. She’d pull stuff out of that drawer when you least expected it. I asked her once how she got all her information: she said, ‘Bud, I run the paper. I hear about nearly everything that goes on in the county.’
When I first started Hope House on less than a shoestring, (chamber of commerce director) Charles Carr walked in and introduced himself. He said, ‘I know a little about what you’re trying to do here, and I came to see how I might help. What do you need, Brother Bud?’
My thoughts had recently been on our need for a computer. I told him that but that I didn’t have any money to buy one.
He said he’d see what he could do. A few days later, he returned with a complete setup that a bank had donated as they updated their system.
I asked him how he’d come by right when he did. He said Molly told him to come see me, because I needed help.
Over the years, there was always something Hope House needed. I would tell Molly and she’d put it in the paper. Repeatedly, it would soon get donated. One man driving through the county picked up a paper and read an article about our needing a van with a chairlift to transport a handicapped child. He called the next day from Huntsville, asked details, and sent us a chairlift van within the week.
That happened time after time. People would call me and tell me, ‘Brother Bud, I saw in the paper that you need _____, I’ve got it and you can have it, or what can we do to help?’
I asked Molly, one time, why she had always been so good to help us? She replied, ‘Because you’re the only one we’ve ever had in this county who cared so much about the needs of the poor and the elderly.’
When she would envision another project, She’d say ‘Bud, you can do that.’ I’d make some excuse of money or time, and she’d say, ‘It needs to be done; you can do it; and I’m going to help you.’ She was an encourager, a supporter, and a helper. I could trust her with anything and everything.
Thoughts on Molly as a person:
• an outer toughness but an inner compassion for nearly everything and everybody (exceptions: those not pulling their weight and elected officials not discharging their responsibilities).
• wide-ranging interests, pursued privately or publicly, i.e. humane treatment of animals (creation/maintenance of the county animal shelter), the county’s natural beauty and its preservation, celebration of the diversity of local immigrants, help for the poor. as a reporter-editor:
• writing: no fads, no frills, no fancy stuff, clean, clear, concise, ordered, precise.
• editing: empathy with writer but emphasizing “hemming up” a story, i.e. backing it into a corner and finally capturing it.
• deadlines: to writers of delayed, last-moment pieces — “Start sooner.” “Some need deadline pressure to rise above routine work.”
• proper journalistic style: “Get the lead at the front. The main point of the story, you’ve buried in paragraph seven.”
• favorite superlative: the old fashioned “splendid” — I received only a handful of these. My highest motivation came with “Splendid. Don’t change a word.” At 74, I’d sign up for 10 more years could I get the rush of such a compliment from Molly again.
• devastating criticism: the all too correct — “You seem to be caught up in how you’re writing, instead of what you’re saying.” That remains taped above my computer as a hard-hitting reminder.
• attention to detail: She knew much and often had support stashed in her desk drawer. When you thought you had the greater knowledge on a subject, you discovered hers put you in the shade. as a spiritual composite:
• from one of her one sentence prayers: “We ask for compassion for those less fortunate than we, and may we love all our neighbors as ourselves.” No frills, concise, splendid.
Molly and I worked together on a lot of things over the years. We talked often. For those matters which were honest and the right thing to do, you could count on her help. She had a deep concern for the welfare of Blount County.
Bidding contracts was one of her greatest concerns. That was not always done before state laws, open meeting requirements, and newspaper diligence began holding officials accountable for it.
I don’t know of anybody for whom I had more respect than Molly Howard Ryan. She stayed behind the scenes, but her support and the newspaper’s coverage had the effect of making people do the right thing. She was a prince of a lady.
She was content in any and every circumstance — a scholar, avid reader, lover of nature, a greathearted cheerful giver, and loyal friend and family member.
-Patsy Boazman Britt