Remembering Gary Howse: A Life Not Wasted

by Stacey Soble | August 11, 2014

Remembering Gary Howse: A Life Not WastedVisionary stylist, salon owner, educator and philanthropist Gary Howse was always a positive force of nature. But in the few weeks leading up to his unexpected passing at the age of 57 on August 3 in New York, several of his friends, colleagues, and employees reported receiving prophetic and encouraging words of wisdom from Howse via text, email and phone calls. “We frequently texted pictures of our pets, and his last text to me included the message, ‘My fondest wish for you is that you are always happy,’” says J’Keren Sears, assistant director of the Gary Manuel Aveda Institute.

Howse grew up in Nisqually, Washington, where he attended high school and served as president of the 4H Club. His reputation for riding dressage was quickly eclipsed by his expertise for coloring the mains and tails of the show horses. After studying chemistry at Harvey Mudd College, Howse decided his creativity would thrive in the professional beauty industry. He started his career working in several Seattle-area salons, including Frederick and Nelson. While working in a salon in one of Seattle’s leading department stores, his path crossed with Manuel Benevich, and together the two founded Gary Manuel Salon in Seattle in 1979. Together, they sought to elevate the expectation of the salon experience from technical skill to guest service.

Over the next 30-plus years, that commitment to excellence led the Gary Manuel Companies to expand to three salons in the Seattle area and establish the Gary Manuel Aveda Institute, which today trains more than 300 beauty professionals each year. Allure, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Town & Country and Modern Salon all named Howse as one of America’s leading hair designers, and the Gary Manuel Companies captured a Global Salon Business Award, multiple SALON TODAY 200 awards, a 2014 SALON OF THE YEAR award, and the 2012 Best of Seattle award.

Howse’s inspiration and passion was shared with thousands of people over the arc of his life. As a philanthropic leader in his community and within the professional beauty industry, he poured his time, energy and love into causes such as the Lifelong AIDS Alliance and the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. Howse’s core belief was that with a little effort a few people could make a big difference, and he was proven right year over year as his salons have become Aveda’s largest contributor to Earth Month, raising more than $360,000 over the past four years.

Howse was known for successfully meeting challenges head-on—from living life as an openly gay man at the height of the AIDS crisis to building a successful business and mentoring young talent. His passion for leading positive change was reflected in his commitment and action. “He was the light in our sky, and the shoes on our feet,” says business partner Benevich.

Howse is survived by his husband Philip Pares; his brother Dave; his sister Julie; his nephews Cooper, Travis and Matthew; his nieces Melissa, Bailey and Morgan; and great-niece Brooklyn. The family asks that memorial contributions be made to Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Puget Soundkeepers Allliance and the Metropolitan Community Church of New York.

Howse’s friends, colleagues and peers share their fondest memories:

“Gary’s legacy will not be forgotten because Gary’s life was one fully lived. He had no bucket list, he re-inspired me to add a few things to mine.”--Manuel Benevich, co-founder Gary Manuel Companies

“From the first time I met Gary, there was mutual love and respect—like knowing each other in another life. We did not talk all the time, but when we did, it was like no time had passed. I have admired Gary and Manuel not only for the amazing business they have created, but the level of mentorship that Gary was so committed to. His love for his students, staff and the community was at such an immeasurable level—from taking students/teachers to Europe to how committed he and Manuel have been to Aveda’s Earth Month, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. The one quality that makes me smile when I think about Gary is how funny he was. He had a great sense of humor, whether by text, email or phone that sense of fun and humor came through. He has left his family, friends, co-workers and this industry way too soon. I will remember our special times, great talks, and how he moved people to action purely by his action. Gary Howse has left this planet a better place!”—Keri Davis-Duffy, owner of Gila Rut Salons in San Diego, California

“In the 38 years I’ve been in the industry I’ve known a lot of hairdressers, and I can truly say that Gary was in a class of his own. He cared deeply about everything he did and everyone he touched—and he blended it all together so beautifully in way that was unique. His team is as tight as they come. He and Manuel have long-term people who have stayed not because they were complacent, but because they were constantly challenged by Gary who loved to change things up. For Gary, success wasn’t a destination, he was always on a path to making things better. He would see trends in fashion, hairdressing and business—both in and out of the industry—and translate them into his own business. He had the ability to connect the dots. The devotion he had to his team and his students was like nothing I’d ever seen and he was constantly taking groups of people to New York or London—that just doesn’t happen these days. But he wanted them to be exposed, and he knew it would be a life-changing event. He was always creating opportunities for his team members to engage at the highest level.”—Ray Civello, president and CEO, Collega International

“I had the honor of knowing and working with Gary for 33 years! From the first time I met him at the Gary Manuel Salon, I knew that he was special due to his curiosity, fun attitude and caring nature. Gary was always positive, always had a gleam in his eye and sparkle in his smile like he knew the secret to life. He was always learning and always sharing, he was very generous with his knowledge, time and financial commitments. He was so very special in his genuineness, authentic caring, charismatic nature and his willing “to be the change” he wanted to witness in his lifetime, whether it was for the good of the salon, staff, industry, Aids, environment and his city, Seattle. He was involved. He never did anything without his personal dedication with his time or his finances. Because he cared, the world is better! How he brought the salon industry to play croquet to raise money for Aids in the 1990s annually for twelve years, is still discussed due to the impact of how to gain visibility and funds plus togetherness of our salons. The last two emails I received from him recently were about his desire to sponsor me for a forthcoming cause for breast cancer and to have my involvement in his cause, Chicken Soup Brigade. His tenacious drive to create, develop and support is legendary by the actions he imparted throughout his life. I am forever grateful that he was my friend in life and I was able to journey together with him, learning and discovering! He will live in my heart. No one individual has affected my life personally and professionally, as Gary Howse did!”—Sydney Berry, president, Salon Services

“Gary had a unique ability to inspire people to follow. If he had a vision, a direction he wanted to go, he had no problem bringing people with him. Gary’s ability to energize and move people to his belief, or a direction he wanted to go is unsurpassed. He was the “Pied Piper” of the salon,”—Stephen R. Pace, friend and Gary Manuel salon designer

"Gary was a true source of inspiration to the Aveda Network, as well as to his teams and clients. His capacity for compassion and his determination to make the world a better place for people and the planet was exceptional. He proved that running a successful business and having a commitment to giving back are not mutually exclusive practices."-Martin Kaufmann, general manager of Aveda North America.

“John Quincy Adams once said: ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.’ This was Gary—my competitor, my peer, my nemesis, my teacher, my rival, my friend. Whether we connected or agreed to disagree, I always left our lunches and functions in awe—in awe of his calm determination, his unwavering standards and his silly boyishness. Unflappable with so much to do, he always was there for me—in the moment, linked by our like-minded devotion to our mission and goals. He inspired me to greatness. A true blue leader and amazing man.”—Inez Gray, owner of Habitude Salons and Spa, Seattle, Washington

“To lose Gary Howse so soon is to lose a piece of our vibrant hairdressing history. Salon Ciba Belltown opened a block away from Gary Manuel in the mid-90s. We traveled through Europe with Gary more than once, and I know personally his quest for more knowledge was insatiable! We would run into each other at Sea Tac Airport many times when Gary was off to yet another trip to New York. Gary has imprinted this industry with his gentle kindness and artistry, and he will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”—Cindy Jarvis, Salon Ciba, Seattle, Washington

“Gary inspired us all to give back. It was such a passion of his, and now it's ours to carry on. He believed that when you give back, you get so much more in return. He is right. All of us are better people because we were lucky enough to have him in our lives. Continuing on his legacy of service will be a passion of mine, and I know of countless others.”—Alex Lawlis, friend and Gary Manuel salon designer

“Gary touched us all in a special way. He taught us to always think bigger and explore ideas outside the box. He was passionate, innovative and a life-long learner. He loved the industry and the collective power we all have to make a difference.”—Sue Trondson, VP field education Aveda North America

“I grew up with Gary as one does in 30 years. There is so much he taught me, and I will carry him with me for the rest of my life,” Kathryn Remijan, best friend and Gary Manuel co-worker

“Gary and Manuel have been friends for years, and we always had a deep respect for one another. We all partied in London together after winning Global Salon Business awards. They were both so gracious to help me with the start of my school, Eric Fisher Academy. We were all part of an elite best practice group. Mary, my wife, loved Gary. He was smart, talented and kind. He will be missed.”—Eric Fisher, Eric Fisher Salons and Academy, Wichita, Kansas

“I consider my time with Gary time with a master in the professional beauty industry; the singular greatest impact on me was his unparallel customer service. Whether it was internal for his team or external for his guests, Gary lived in the details and practiced excellence as an ongoing actively, not just with the end in mind.”--Matt Humphrey, president, Gary Manuel Companies

“I had the privilege and honor of working with Gary Howse at Gary Manuel Salon for 20 years, and I knew immediately that I was in a fortunate position. Even when I completed my internship with Gary, I chose to spend my spare time assisting him so that I could continue to learn from one of the great masters of our industry. He was so much more than a boss, teacher, and mentor. He had “it,” and people genuinely enjoyed being around him. He demonstrated the values and vision necessary to run a successful salon, how to treat your team, and how to have fun. To this day, I still carry these lessons with me. He was a perfectionist with technique, relentless with superior customer service, passionate about giving back to the community, and a charismatic leader. I can’t recall a time that Gary said “no” to me, and he encouraged me to follow my passion for education, for which I am grateful. Gary was fearless, as he and Manuel kept expanding their business. They never lost sight of their vision, and they never gave up on the dream.I will miss Gary more than I can say. I find comfort in knowing that he was genuinely happy, both professionally and personally, and that he enjoyed seeing all his dreams come true. Gary will be with me for years to come as I continue to run my business with the lessons that he taught me. He brought passion to our beloved industry, and we are all better for his impact.”—Lisa Power, owner of Lisa Power Salon in Seattle, Washington

“I got to know Gary many years ago when I was on the PBA board, and even better when we were both in London together receiving the honor of the Global Salon Business awards. I realized there was something very special about Gary when I learned there were four women from Seattle who came to England on a private just to surprise him as he received his award. I was fortunate to have been part of an industry business peer group with Gary. He was always willing to share his knowledge, and he had a such a strong vision, intuition, and fashion sense. His attention to detail, his passion for raising the bar and polishing the profession was always apparent in every decision he made for his business, his employees and his students. Gary's other leading quality was his integrity, honesty and doing the right thing. Gary also had the best quirky sense of humor that could bring a smile to everyone's face. I will remember Gary for his cute smile and that gleam in his eye.”-- Eveline Charles, owner of EvelineCharles Salon, Spa, Beauty MD, and Academy

“I met Gary through Manuel, and I spent time in Seattle with both of them and they inspired me to look at my business differently. Gary loved the teaching and the education and was always committed to growing his team. He was so very gifted at bringing creativity into the business that it was no surprise that creativity flowed freely from his staff. Manuel and Gary had such admiration for each other, such deep rooted respect for each other's talents while knowing they were very different individuals who together with their succinctly unique skill sets worked seamlessly on their salon and then their school business. They so trusted each other and both did and do what they truly love to do and happen to do it in extraordinary way. Gary Howse will always hold a special place in my heart and I know the pain Manuel and the entire family and friends and staff must feel during this time of sorrow, pain, and loss. I leave us all with these words.. dying is easy, it's the living that is hard and with Gary gone now I challenge us all to step up our game in an attempt to fill the enormous creativity cavern that Gary Howse filled every minute of every day he spent with us! I will miss my friend and I promise to never ever forget the man.”—Steven Brooks, Owner of Diva Studio, Las Vegas, NV

“I was a member of Salon Services’ Club 40 back in the day with my late husband Buddy Stewart—we were Stewart Salon. I always longed for Gary's attendance and sharing at the group meetings because he was so real. Gary had this thing, it was live life and give and accept! My last contact with Gary was when my son passed away, and he reached out to me. I could only breathe, and thank him for his love. Gary is an amazing human being!”—Nancy Stewart

"Gary was the one person who taught me everything that I am today in my career. When I learned of his passing all I could think about is how he took this wild young kid and gave me the knowledge to not only succeed but to be a better person inside and out. I still echo him in my work and personal life. He will always be the person that I strive to be."--Robert Middleton Owner of Stylus Salon & Spa in Seattle, WA

“In the late 80s and early 90s, AIDS was still having a horrific impact on the world, and we were just starting to pay attention. The usual fundraisers were popping up (walks, runs, auctions), but the best fundraiser was the annual croquet tournament that Gary and his team hosted. That is where I first met Gary Howse. It was always a fun afternoon and raised a ton of money. As I recall, I had to ‘bribe’ the judges so our team wasn’t in last place! They found a way to take on a tragedy like AIDS and yet still have fun. Gary cared so much about giving back to the community and helping to make this world a better place. He was an inspiration to my team and me, and several of my teammates at James Alan Salon & Spa are graduates of the Gary Manuel Aveda Institute. I am so grateful for the contributions Gary gave to this world and know that his essence and spirit will live on forever.”—Matthew Fairfax, owner of the James Alan Salon & Spa and founder of the Justice & Soul Foundation

“Like most people, I fell in the love with Gary the moment I met him! We met when the Gary Manuel Institute was first opening, and I instantly felt his passion for the industry and the students he was training. Anyone that goes to beauty school remembers the day they met their “Beauty School Bestie” Gary was my beauty school “BESTIE”. I could call him whenever anything crazy, amazing or disappointing happened and he did the same with me. We would text about school regulations, Prada pants and falling in love with our partners. I always admired how much he still loved doing hair and searching out education. He loved “HAIR HUMANS” and we laughed about the business of raising the next generation of hairdressers. Typical Gary...I was back in Seattle (my home town) for an event and we were meeting for Sunday Funday Brunch. He had me pick him up at a low income senior center in Pike Place where he was giving complimentary haircuts. Gary told the seniors that I was a famous Esthetician from San Francisco (I’m licensed....not famous) and I started cleaning up their brows. We had so much fun we missed our brunch reservations. Gary wanted to the leave the planet a better place then how he found it....and he absolutely did! I miss him.”—Deedee Crossett

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