Howard Algernon Counts, a devoted family man, community leader, IT assistant and spectator of one of Charlotte’s greatest fights for racial equality, died June 20. He was 75 years old.
Given his natural inclination toward math and science, it’s no wonder, family members say, that Counts became a mathematician and computer scientist, starting at IBM in 1969 and teaching and running a computer center at the University of Georgia in 1973.
Later, he served as chief information officer for Celanese Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, where Counts was the highest-ranking minority employee.
And given his disposition for loyalty throughout his life, it’s no wonder, family members said, that the Earls remained devoted to his community and his family, even though his hometown was once at odds with his relatives.
“She was probably the most beautiful person I’ve ever known,” said his wife Stephanie, 72.
Even as a child, Counts was a thinker, family members said. Give him a problem, and he would solve it, humbly.
His intelligence landed him at one of the nation’s top prep schools, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, an almost unheard of feat for a black student in the 1960s.
He then graduated from West Charlotte High School and a math degree from Johnson C. Smith University, the campus where Counts lived for the first 12 years of his life.
The Count’s father, Herman Counts Sr., was a professor at the University of Charlotte. He was also the pastor of two rural churches in the area. This is how Counts met Stephanie.
Stephanie lived in New Jersey but visited her grandmother in Concord. She attended one of Herman’s churches.
The rest, as they say, is history.
They married in 1969 and moved to the East Coast together as Counts’ career in computing took off.
And Counts supported Stephanie, first as a teacher (he would help her design artwork for her class) and then as a principal (Stephanie was named North Carolina Principal of the Year in 1991 and National Director of the Year later) and finally as a co-founder. of the non-profit group Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange.
Counts was the de facto finance and IT manager for the group, roles he also held for Memorial Presbyterian Church for more than 20 years.
“It was amazing that no matter what I did, he was always there,” Stephanie Counts said. “We always worked side by side.”
A friend wrote in a text to Stephanie after Howard’s death: “Indeed, when you think of Howard Counts, you think of ‘Howard and Stephanie.’ Inseparable in love and always busy doing the work of community-minded business leaders, serving humanity and empowering people.
Integration in Charlotte
The Earls got a behind-the-scenes look at an empowerment movement in 1957.
Howard was 10 when his sister, Dorothy, was among the first black students to attend Harry Harding High School, now Harding University High School. Dorothy, or “Dot” as Howard called her, was 15 years old.
Her white classmates yelled at her, threw ice cream at her and spat on her yellow and blue dress, The Observer previously reported. The teachers just ignored her.
After a few days, Dorothy’s parents took her away from Harding.
As a youngster, Howard never spoke to Dorothy about the racism she endured. It’s no surprise, she said. Howard was the youngest of his three brothers, and he liked to think about problems alone, quietly.
But, she says, Howard became her protector later in life.
He drove 80-year-old Dorothy to the doctor, fixed things around her house and, of course, answered her questions about the computer.
When she received an award for bravery as a teenager or gave a presentation about her time at Harding, Howard was there.
“He was like, ‘Dot, I’m proud of you. I’m really proud of you. “, She said. “How proud I was of him.