F. Leon Howell ’57, an author and essayist who was the last editor of the influential liberal-tilting journal Christianity and Crisis, died Feb. 26 at his home in Silver Spring, Md. He had suffered the past 14 years from a viral spinal infection that was never fully diagnosed.
Howell had contributed to Christianity and Crisis since its peak in the late 1960s, when it was a leading critic of the Vietnam War. He was editor from 1985 until it folded in 1993. He told the New York Times it was the high cost of postage and health insurance more than any theological dispute that prompted the closing of the publication, which theologian Reinhold Niebuhr founded in 1941.
In retirement, Howell helped organize an annual week-long seminar at the Ghost Ranch conference center in New Mexico called “Discerning the Signs of the Times,” named after an anthology of Niebuhr’s sermons. Howell’s books included Freedom City: The Substance of Things Hoped For (1969), about the struggle for black tenant farmers in Mississippi to start their own community, and Asia, Oil Politics and the Energy Crisis (1974), written with Michael Morrow.
Howell was a native of Copperhill, Tenn., and a graduate of Davidson. After Army service in South Korea, where he was an editor for Stars and Stripes newspaper, he returned home after hitchhiking through Asia and the Middle East.
In the 1960s, he graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York and became the New York-based communications secretary for the University Christian Movement, an effort to create an interdenominational association of campus ministries nationwide.
He spent four years as a freelance reporter in Singapore before settling in the Washington area in 1975. He was a board member and secretary of International Relief and Development, a non-governmental aid organization based in Arlington County, and an elder at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington.
Survivors include his wife, Barbara Smith Howell, 1412 Stateside Dr., Silver Spring, MD 20903, whom he married in 1965; two daughters, Marya Lee Howell ’91 (Jeff Kniple) and Leah Ruth Howell ’89 (Josh Moga); a sister; a brother; and three grandchildren.