Howard Fairweather, Beloved Husband, Father, Banker, Builder

Tuesday February 21, 2023

Dorothy and Howard Fairweather with Ida Wye at Japonika.JPG

NEWBURYPORT – Howard Fairweather, who died of heart failure at age 84 a few days after the New Year, cast a long shadow not only in the Boston banking world, but as chair of his hometown historical commission and a builder of Japonika, an exotic Japanese house and gardens on the Merrimack River.
His minister, Rev. Rebecca Bryan, in a celebration of his life at the Unitarian Universalist Church last month called the parishioner she knew for four decades “a large and vibrant man. I will miss him.”
Howard Hessington Fairweather, or just HHF as he was known at State Street Bank, worked as the executive vice president until he was 80. “No one made a greater contribution to State Street Bank than Howard,” said Jay Vaughn, a bank colleague and longtime friend.
He headed the commercial loan department, deciding on most of the loans the bank made. Because many of the proposed loans, Fairweather recalled in an interview last year, were less than financially sound, he joked that he earned the nickname at the bank of “Dr. No.”
In the oft-contentious environment at the bank, Vaughn described Fairweather as “the least prickly, testy person I have known.” In difficult meetings, he never let things get out of hand, never demeaned anyone and always treated everyone fairly, he said.
In a crisis, and State Street went through its share, “he was unflappable,” Vaughn said.
Peter Maher, his colleague at the bank and a friend for 52 years, said he frequently turned to Fairweather for advice. He was “the smartest man I knew to help me.”
Fairweather enjoyed many interests and passions from music and art to history and current events. His taste in music ranged from the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin to opera. His appreciation of architecture and history led him and his wife, Dorothy, to preserve their historic South End home and to chair the Newburyport Historical Commission from 1967 to 1971, a time when historic preservation here was only becoming important.
“We had some good fights,” he told The Town Common.
He loved to travel, particularly to Italy, where he loved everything Italian. He was passionate about cars and relished taking friends to Formula One races. But he drove a VW bug.
His friends and colleagues, who often were invited to travel with him, unanimously called Howard a “great travel companion.” He and Dorothy owned a home in Todi, a hilltop town in Umbria, where they spent a lot of time in recent years, frequently bringing along friends.
“He was the consummate host, anticipating exactly what his guests would like to do,” said close friend Charles Griffin. His wife, Gillian Griffin, called Howard “an elegant man.”
Gwyneth Fairweather DiMartino remember her father as being fun, waking her each morning whistling. She described him as a happy man, who enjoyed silly people.
“You gave me everything I could want and need,” she said, addressing her father. “He provided a safe place to fail and even more so I could flourish.”
She said her father had a wonderful sense of himself. “He always said the right thing.”
Gwyneth recalled that no matter how intense his schedule was, he would leave Boston to watch her play middle school sports, only to return to the bank for long hours in the evening.
Fairweather was born May 13, 1938, in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating from Samuel J. Tilden High School, he was drafted as a pitcher to play professional baseball, but an arm injury cut short his athletic career. He joked that he “settled” for attending Harvard College where he earned a degree in history.
He earned his MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth before finding his way to State Street.
He met his wife, Dorothy Woodley Fairweather, at the bank where she worked in the international division.
They lived in a house at 4 Parsons Street in the South End that was recognized in 2015 by the Newburyport Preservation Trust for the Fairweather’s efforts to preserve the home’s historic nature.
They also built Japonika, a two-story contemporary Japanese-style house on the riverfront, for her.
While Howard loved “La Dolce Vita” and everything Italian, Dorothy adored Japan. She lived as a child in a Japanese village while her father served in the Air Force.
Those memories never left her. On the coffee table in their den at Japonika with its pristine views of the river sit books on Japan.
“I love Japan,” Dorothy said in an interview about the house.
The house was designed by Greg Colling of Merrimack Design based on his research and her childhood memories. It was built by C2MG Builders.
The Fairweathers never lived in Japonika, but enjoyed relaxing there on many days. “Howard loved to come there to read newspapers,” said Ida Wye, a close friend who designed Japonika’s gardens and help landscape South End home.
The Japonika house, teahouse and garage sit on the environmentally sensitive site, an Eastern white pine bluff between a farm meadow and the river. Shortly after the Fairweathers bought two vacant lots on Collins Farm Road from friends, Chuck and Ann LaGasse, who live next door, they secured a permanent conservation restriction on the land, keeping just enough to build the house, teahouse and garage.
Dorothy loves animals and was one of the founders and largest supporters of the Merrimack Feline Society.
“Japonika is a good habitat for animals, including eagles and fox,” Wye said.
Developing a home and garden while improving it for wildlife “is not a common goal,” Wye said. “Today we have more high functional value plants than existed prior. The wildlife has responded. It has become quite the hunting ground for raptors and fox.”
Coyotes stroll through, and “The deer think I am Snow White,” she said. “Birds and pollinators are discovering the wildflower meadow, and the blueberry sod, low and high blueberries are stripped by the fox and birds. Anyone who spends alone time in the island and river zen garden portion of the landscape just want to let out a big, Ooommm.”
While other bankers dressed conservatively, the tall, elegant Fairweather, whom friends described as “strikingly handsome,” preferred bow ties and wore seersucker jackets. He often wore his jacket draped over his shoulders and scoffed at colleagues who put their arms in the sleeves, his friends recalled.
Fairweather had a great sense of humor and a laugh that was contagious, friends and family members said. Vaughn recalled when a large loan for a medical equipment company that Fairweather opposed went in default, he never told Vaughn and others who had supported the loan ‘I told you so.” But at the end of the meeting, he gave them a Bronx cheer.
“He had a great sense of self,” Vaughn said. Griffin, a prominent architect in town, said he never saw his friend doubt himself.
According to his obituary, “Howard leaves behind a legacy of kindness, loyalty, service and genuine compassion for others. Howard was eminently smart, witty, sure, and always an optimist. He woke up happy just about every morning, whistling his way through his days.”
When Dorothy asked recently how he wanted to be remembered, Howard said as a good father to daughters, Gwyneth and Bobbi Jo Abasta.
His friend Jay Vaughn said he pictures Howard in the afterlife, sitting in the Italian sun sipping a favorite Italian wine with his seersucker jacket hanging from his shoulders.

Support Local Businesses

Priced Right Junk Removal

Local Forecast

Subscribe To Receive Our Newspaper Every Wednesday Morning FREE

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and newspaper within your emails.

You have Successfully Subscribed!