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Remembering Howard Munce

Howard Munce — a much-admired artist, indefatigable Westport volunteer, World War II veteran, good friend and beloved human being — died yesterday. He turned 100 in November, and enjoyed a townwide celebration in his honor at the Westport Historical Society.

A few days before that event, “06880” wrote:

Mark your calendars, Westport. On Friday, Howard Munce turns 100.

Howard Munce at work.

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Howard’s resume — advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — ranks him with the most prominent creative folks in our history.

He served his country in World War II, seeing action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

He’s served his town too. Howard has been an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library.

Whenever he was asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the Westport Historical Society; mentoring young artists — he always said “of course.”

Howard Munce epitomizes 2 of our community’s proudest traits: our arts heritage, and our spirit of giving back.

He’s been a proud Westporter since 1935. He came here to live with family friends, while commuting to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was modeling for famed artist Harold von Schmidt.

Westport has been an important part of Howard’s life ever since. And he’s been an even more important part of ours.

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

Previewing the party a few months earlier, I wrote:

Munce’s resume is beyond impressive. Trained at Pratt Institute, he was a Young & Rubicam art director beginning in the late 1940s — after World War II, when he saw action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

Munce is professor emeritus at Paier College of Art; honorary president of the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library, and — with Fisher — co-curated the black-and-white drawings by Westport artists in its McManus Room.

Howard Munce, in his 90s. (Photo/Kristen Rasich Fox)

But those are facts. Far more important is Munce’s humanity.

Whenever he is asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the WHS; mentoring young artists — he always says “of course.” With a sparkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and a handshake as firm as a 20-year-old’s.

Until a couple of years ago, he clambered up ladders to make sure every exhibit he oversaw was properly hung.

At 99, Howard Munce no longer climbs ladders. Then again, he doesn’t have to.

He long ago reached the top.

BONUS FACT: In 2008, Howard Munce was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. Here’s his speech: 

For an interesting story on Howard Munce’s World War II experiences in New Zealand, click here. For a 2013 tribute to Howard from the magazine Five O’Clock, click here

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