Howard Lebwith, who died recently, embodies the Christmas spirit for me inasmuch as he genuinely cared for and celebrated others, acted on their behalf, and always marveled at the beauty of life, which sometimes came at a cost, as when he almost was blown off the top of Mount Washington in impenetrable mist at the end of a running race up it, and was during a cross-country bicycle tour knocked off the road by a down-shifting truck’s tire in Missouri, an experience that prompted him to advise each and every cyclist to wear a helmet.
He was, in short, intrepid, a lover of life, and a convivial storyteller.
“It was one of the highlights of my life,” Howard told me after the 45-day, 3,142-mile Pedal for Power bicycle tour in the summer of ‘97. “You know, before I left, I told you what Jack Barrymore had said, that a man is never old until his dreams become regrets. In this case, there’s not a regret. . . . I was going to teach myself German, reacquaint myself with Japanese, learn Yiddish . . . but there were so many things worth looking at. The days went like that because the country is so beautiful, and so many things happened. The towns, the rivers . . . Stoutsville, population 26, ‘Salome, Where She Danced,’ the Cozy Dog Cafe, Mayville, Kansas, where a band welcomed us, where a man baked 600 cinnamon buns just for us and a woman who made her own strawberry jam made us strawberry jam and peanut butter sandwiches. They even printed up napkins. It was unbelievable. People are so kind to you in the Midwest.”
And the birds. Ten peregrine falcons sitting on a wire above him, bald eagles, golden eagles, “13,000 turkey buzzards, red-winged blackbirds, the western finch, flashes of gold . . . sidewinders, a tarantula. . . .”
Coming back to East Hampton had been, he said, “a shock. . . . People come out to get away from New York, but they bring New York with them. Thank goodness for Springs. It’s quiet, the birds are singing, nobody drives down my block, and I know my neighbors.”
The founder of the Great Bonac 10K road race, which would have been contested for the 43rd time on Labor Day had not the coronavirus pandemic intervened, was honored in 1997 by the town’s late supervisor Cathy Lester with a proclamation attesting to his many efforts on this community’s behalf. Runners were, he concluded, with perhaps only a couple of exceptions, the nicest people he knew.
It was great to know you, Howard. You were a mensch.