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Lifelong North Carolina Public Servant Jonathan Howes Dies At 78

Jonathan Howes
UNC-Chapel Hill

Former Chapel Hill Mayor and North Carolina public servant Jonathan Howes died Sunday.

Howes, 78, held several prominent government positions at the local, state and federal levels. He served in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Kennedy administration, he was Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources under Gov. Jim Hunt, and he spent 23 years as director of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Howes also had a stint as interim general manager of WUNC Radio in 2001 and 2002 and served on the station’s Community Advisory Board.

A native of Fountain City, Tenn., Howes came to North Carolina in 1959 to attend the Master’s program in city and regional planning at UNC. He earned a second Master’s degree from Harvard before he returned to North Carolina to lead UNC’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

While in Chapel Hill, Howes became involved in local politics. He was a Town Council member from 1975 until 1987, when he was elected to his first of two terms as mayor.

"Jonathan was the epitome of a public servant," Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said in a statement on Monday.

"We were grateful for his participation on a local level, where he never stopped being involved as a true citizen leader. He represented the very best of us in Chapel Hill... On a personal level, his presence put you at ease. Even on my very best day, I am still trying to do what he did. I will miss him dearly.”

In 1992, Gov. Jim Hunt appointed Howes to lead the department known today as DENR, where he established the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The trust provides grants for state parks, local recreation projects and coastal access.

In 2001, WUNC Radio asked Howes to lead the station while it searched for a permanent general manager. That year, Howes helped WUNC transition from a station with classical music and news to a format driven by news and information.

Most recently, Howes was Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Community Affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill. He served Chancellors James Moeser and Holden Thorp in that position, before retiring in 2010.

Howes and his wife Mary were married for 55 years. He is also survived by his sister, three children, and eight grandchildren. The family has not released details about a memorial service.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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