At 6’4, Barry Howard is a hard man to miss, especially when he’s walking across your back yard to check the gas meter. But residents will miss his appearance around town as he informed those in the First Baptist Church men’s prayer breakfast group last week that he’d be retiring at 4 p.m. that afternoon.
Howard has been working in Winnfield since November 1998, where he arrived with the title of “town operator.” He explained that meant he did it all, reading meters, repairing leaks, turn-ons, turn-offs, whatever it took. He told the Journal that many of his customers didn’t know his name. They just knew him as “The Gas Man.” They certainly did know his smile and his easy-going personality.
As to those relationships, Howard told the breakfast gathering that over his quarter century of service here, he saw his customers become friends and his friends, through this association, become brothers in Christ.
His start in the natural gas business came a decade before his Winn arrival, when he began work for TransLa Gas in Natchitoches on June 1, 1988. The company name has changed, now Atmos Energy, but the local natural gas service is still the same, though modernization has come in areas like meter reading. At one point, Howard even let the newspaper publisher try out (for about 20 feet) the company’s Segway when they used it here for a while.
He explained how “routines” intersect. With his criss cross driving around town, he would meet some of the different postal carriers, Carroll Varnell, Teddy Garner, David Adams on their routes and over time could predict who he would find and where.
Outstanding memories? During his Natchitoches years, “Steel Magnolias” was filmed. When he rang the doorbell where Sally Fields was staying, he was surprised that the actress herself, not a butler, answered. Their conversation was pleasant, he recalls, but brief. Then there was Hurricane Laura here. “That put a lot of work on us. It didn’t mess up the gas lines so much but there was a lot of locating lines (damage prevention) when they replaced power poles.”
Barry’s wife of 45 years is Pamela and they make their home in Clarence. With two grown sons, Brandon and Jonathan, they have three grandchildren. Members of the Family Church, he says that in retirement, Sunday will be the only day you won’t find him on the lake. “White perch, the only fish.”
Well, that’s not quite true because is a old tractor enthusiast and actually president of the North LA Vintage Tractor Club which keeps him pretty busy with appearances at fairs and festivals.
Howard concluded that his 25 years working in Winn Parish has been awesome. “I couldn’t have chosen a better community to work in. These are the best people in the world. I got along with everybody from the mayor’s office to the jailhouse.”
Finish with a little humor. Howard shared an anecdote with the breakfast group about one of the attendees. “He saw me reading his meter and, knowing I garden, asked me: “Barry, help me out. My tomatoes are just starting to turn red but when I come out in the morning, they’re gone! What do you suppose are getting them? Coons? Deer?’ I asked him if he ever thought about the meter reader, then left his yard real quick.”