Stafford Delegate William J. Howell, R-28th District, likes to organize things. It is his job as a lawyer, a family man and the next speaker of the House of Delegates.
A glance around the 59-year-old’s law office is proof of his methodical thinking. A menagerie of elephant statuettes mostly gifts marches across a shelf. Dozens of polished family photographs dot a spotless, Swedish-style table.
Even his rustic, two-story office, a late 1700s Virginia log cabin, was purchased as a dismantled farmhouse and meticulously pieced back together in Falmouth. Several animals from antique taxidermy dealers are part of the effect.
“I saw a deer head in an antique shop and I thought it would look good in here,” Howell said. “Then I bought an elk, then a caribou and it kind of got out of hand.”
The Stafford resident is expected to be voted as Speaker-designate by the Republican caucus Saturday in Richmond. Howell will serve alongside acting Speaker Lacey E. Putney, I-19th District, of Bedford until Jan. 8 when the Republican-controlled House reconvenes.
Previous Speaker S. Vance Wilkins of Amherst, R-24th District, is scheduled to resign the speakership and his seat after reports surfaced that he paid $100,000 of his own money to settle a sexual misconduct claim made by a 26-year-old woman last summer.
Putney will remain speaker until January, but Howell’s fifth-floor office in the General Assembly Building will be moved to Wilkins’ old suite on the sixth floor in August, the House clerk told Howell.
Even an organized man can have a soft spot. Like the time Howell organized a special box of socks for Cessie, his wife.
Cecelia Stump Howell, known to her friends as Cessie, was raised in southern Maryland. After she graduated from the University of Maryland, her family moved to Virginia. That was pretty far away to keep dating her boyfriend in Maryland.
Howell was raised in Northern Virginia. He had graduated from the University of Richmond and was attending law school at the University of Virginia. And his girlfriend had gone even farther away to New York City.
That’s when Cessie’s girlfriend called her about Howell.
“He’s looking for a date,” said the friend. Cessie cautiously accepted.
“I remember thinking he had his whole life planned,” Cessie said. I thought he had two more years of law school and then would probably go to Vietnam.”
Howell did continue law school, but he wasn’t drafted. Instead, six months after their blind date in July 1965, he wrapped up a box of socks for Cessie’s Christmas present.
“I had a habit of wearing socks,” Cessie said. “Hidden in one of the socks was a diamond ring.”
The couple married the following June. Cessie brought her love of plants and gardens; Howell brought his neatly piled stack of 45s.
“He’s a whiz at rock ‘n’ roll,” Cessie said. “He knows all the original artists.”
In the early years of their marriage, Howell completed his law degree and conducted legal work for Farmers & Merchants Bank in Northern Virginia. Cessie got involved with community service and raised their two sons, Billy and Jack.
Then in 1977, the National Bank of Fredericksburg asked Howell to start a trust department. His knack for organization would come in handy.
“I couldn’t believe we were moving,” Cessie said. “We only knew one couple in Fredericksburg.”
The family moved to south Stafford and put down roots, which grew deep. They bought a home the same house where they live today with their black Labrador mix, Tory.
Their sons grew up in the house and entered Grafton Village Elementary School, where two of the Howells’ five grandchildren now attend school.
The Howells also joined Ferry Farm Baptist Church, where Howell served as a deacon and taught Sunday school. He still holds Bible devotions at his office on Tuesday mornings.
Then in 1988, the roots got deeper. Howell was elected to the House, where he now represents eastern Stafford and the city of Fredericksburg. He subsequently opened a trust and probate law practice. It pays to be organized.
But there is a lighter side behind the man in starched-white shirts and pressed slacks. Just ask about his grandchildren.
Walking over to a table in his office, his eyes take on a sudden gleam and the conversation picks up. He points out nearly 20 framed photographs of his three granddaughters and two grandsons.
“They are special,” Howell said, and explains exactly what each child is doing in the photographs.
Many photos were taken at Rehoboth Beach, Del., a vacation spot that both husband and wife frequented as children and throughout their 36 years of marriage.
“We go to Rehoboth Beach with our kids and grandchildren every summer,” Howell said. “It’s a family tradition. It’s crowded, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Like many grandfathers, Howell can’t say too many good things about his grandchildren and even offers to talk more about them later. Every story he tells about the grandkids ends with a smile.
But as an orderly person, there is one thing Howell can do that most grandfathers cannot.
“I know all their ages,” he said, reciting the full name and age of each child while explaining exactly who each youngster is named after. And once again, he ends with a smile.