Dr. Robert B. Howard was fluent with words.
"He loved the English language," said his son Greg Howard.
Howard studied Latin in school, and he could tell you what words mean and where they came from.
"Humor in our household involved a lot of wordplay," Greg Howard said. "A lot of competition for wordplay at the Sunday dinner table."
Howard died Feb. 7 in California, where he had lived since 2000. He was 94.
After earning his bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota in 1941, Howard "was hurried through medical school in three years," Greg Howard said. It was right before World War II, and there was an urgent need for doctors.
The war ended right after he graduated from the university's medical school. He went into the service and served as a physician at an Army base in Mississippi for a few years before returning to Minnesota.
Howard quickly moved up the ranks, and at 37 was named dean of the College of Medical Sciences, the umbrella for the schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing and public health. He was later elected chairman of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
In 1970, he stepped down from the deanship and went on to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis to direct its internal medicine residency program. He finished his distinguished career as editor-in-chief of Postgraduate Medicine journal.
"He loved that job because it brought together his love of medicine and his love of words," Greg Howard said.
Howard also loved movies, which might have stemmed from his first job, at 16, as an usher at a movie theater. Greg Howard estimated that his father saw "well into the thousands" of movies. Every year, he watched many Oscar-nominated films. He would make notes on his picks and watched the awards show.
After it got difficult to watch the films in the theaters, he bought a Roku streaming media player and subscribed to Netflix (online and by mail).
And that's how he kept up with technology, Greg Howard said. At 94, before he died, Howard owned an iPhone 5 and was looking to upgrade to the iPhone 6.
"He was just so with it," said his granddaughter Lisa Fortney. "I could just shoot my grandpa a text. He just never stopped learning and was always up to speed. It was so fun to have him for as long as we did."
Howard and his first wife, Lorraine, who had been his high-school sweetheart, traveled all over the world before she died in 1997. They kept a map of the world on a wall covered with colored pins showing where they'd been — Peru, the Galápagos Islands, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe.
But among all of the pins, his favorite place was his family's cabin on Bass Lake in St. Croix County, Wis. "He loved being out there," Greg Howard said.
Fortney described her grandfather as the "most, kind, gentle man, incredibly bright, but very humble."
"He was the kind of grandpa that would spend a lot of time with us," Fortney said.
In addition to his son Greg, creator of the comic strip "Sally Forth," Howard is survived by two other sons, David and Brad; a daughter, Carol Howard; a stepson, Peter Skoglund; a brother, John Howard; six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Lorraine; his second wife, Ardys Skoglund, a son, Gary Howard, a daughter, Renie Howard, and a stepson, John Skoglund.
Services have been held.