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Former longtime Atmore mayor passes away

Former longtime Atmore Mayor Howard Shell, a man who was remembered as one who took care of the city’s people, has passed away.

Shell passed away in his sleep on Aug. 21, 2021. At present, funeral arrangements for Shell haven’t been announced.

Shell dedicated 24 years of service to Atmore, serving two years from 1984-1986 on the city council; and as mayor from 1986-1996 and from 2000-2012.

“He was a good mayor,” Current Mayor Jim Staff said. “He took good care of the people.”

Staff said Shell was instrumental in getting the Rivercane Development, which has since grown, established.

“He was a personable man,” Staff, who served on the city council from 2000-2012, said.

Staff said Shell did well by Atmore.

“He had Atmore at heart,” he said.

Gov. Kay Ivey Tweeted Monday her condolences toward Shell’s family and friends once she learned of his passing.

“I just heard of the passing of Atmore’s beloved former mayor, Howard Shell,” Ivey said. “He was a great leader for Atmore and Escambia County. (My) Prayers (go) to his family and friends.”

For 23 years, City Clerk Becca Smith worked with Shell.

Smith was hired by Shell as the city’s personnel officer.

“He hired me striaght out of college,” Smith said. “I learned basically everything I know about city government.”

Smith recalled her first impression of Shell was that of being scared of him.

“I can remember I sat where I was sitting (in the front where the lobby is) (Monday),” she said. “I can remember he would walk back and forth in front of my desk and he would have his hands in his pockets. He would walk back and forth just pacing in front of my desk because he was thinking about something. I’d go home in the afternoons and beg my daddy to not make me go back to work there, and that that man was terrifying.”

Smith said her father told her she’d have to tough it out.

In the end, it worked out for Smith.

“I remember one day he was pacing back and forth in front of my desk and I coudn’t take it anymore, and I said, ‘Could you please stop? You’re making me so nervious,’” she said. “Everything was fine from that point forward. We had a good, funny relationship after that. It’s not like he made you respect him. You couldn’t not respect him. He was so smart about everything business wise here. A lot of knowledge died with him. He was definitely one of a kind, and I’ll never forget him.”

Smith said a special memory of her’s is on her 40th birthday, Shell called a bunch of her friends and arranged a limousine to take them to David’s Catfish House for lunch.

Another special memory Smith said she’ll never forget was while she was pregnant with her first child, Sam.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I was leaving here to go to a regular doctor’s appointment,” she said. “I’ll never forget when I left here that day that he was being real kind of a like parent. He asked me ‘Are you sure you don’t want me to ride with you?’ I was like, ‘Oh mayor I’m going to be fine. I’m going to a doctor’s apointment.’

“Well, when I got there, Sam was in distress, and so I had to go in the hospital and didn’t come back to work for probably about six or seventh months,” she said. “He came to the hospital as often as he could to check on me and called me everyday. I’ll just never forget that. It was like we had a father-daughter bond that day when I left here. He knew that I didn’t need to be by myself.”

Smith said she’ll never forget when Shell would get into hurricane mode. She said he’d wear his official garb, which included waste-banded shirts and Prince’s tennis shoes.

Smith said Shell passed away in his sleep, and added that she was thankful she got the opportunity to speak with him a couple months ago.

“Nina (Downing) and I talked to him a couple months ago,” Smith said. “I’m sorry I never called him back after that conversation, but I’m so glad we had that conversation because the last he thing he said to me was, ‘I love you.’”