Family: Married to Neville Howell for 33 years. They have two sons, Trey Howell, 31, and Brett Howell, 27.
Occupation: Publisher, Blount Today; columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel; assistant publisher, Knoxville Magazine.
Sherri Gardner Howell is known for working long hours at Blount Today. That habit started early.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee in journalism, Sherri, who was working as an unpaid intern at the News Sentinel, got a paid summer internship in the Features department. Her primary job was to help write all the engagement and wedding stories for the Sunday paper. Her boss was impressed with how fast Sherri was, based on the number of hours she was working and the number of stories she was producing.
“What she didn’t know was I was coming in on Sundays so they would think I was very good and very fast. After they hired me fulltime, I had to learn to be very good and very fast so they wouldn’t know I wasn’t quite what they had hired. I loved working at the News Sentinel and wasn’t going to let a little thing like sleep mess it up.”
Sherri says she loved being a writer, but years later when she accepted a promotion to be the entertainment editor of a new Sentinel publication, she realized that decision would change the direction of her career. “It was very difficult, because all I ever wanted to do was write. I took the opportunity because editor Harry Moskos convinced me it was something I needed to do. I had never been in charge of anyone my whole life other than bossing around my little brother,” she says. “Suddenly I had a staff of creative, incredibly energetic young people to put together this entertainment section, so we just did it. It was fun and a lot of work.”
By this point in her career, Sherri was also a wife and mother to two boys, Trey and Brett.
“My life got terribly out of balance,” she says. “I can’t do anything halfway, and I felt my children were getting the short end of the stick.” In 1988, Sherri quit to be a stay-at-home mom and develop a freelance career. She never completely broke ties with the News Sentinel and began writing a weekly column on Saturdays called Rhymes and Reasons and later took on the weekly School Page. “I went back to the News Sentinel in 1996, and Harry hired me as the features editor,” she says.
In 2004, News Sentinel publisher Bruce Hartman told Sherri about a project being planned for Blount County and asked if she would come over and help while he looked for a publisher. That project was Blount Today.
“It took me about two months to completely fall in love with Blount County,” she says. “We started the end of August and in October, with my time to go back ‘home’ coming at the end of December, Bruce came to me and asked, ‘Do I start looking for a publisher?’ I told him I wanted to stay here, and he said ok.’”
Sherri says leaving the News Sentinel was very a difficult decision. “I made it based on two reasons,” she says. “I was so excited about the kind of journalism Blount Today was doing. It was community-based journalism, what I grew up on in the features department. It is what I believe the future of journalism is going to be. The second reason was the team here. I had already fallen in love with them. Just like the ‘family’ I had at the Sentinel, they were incredibly talented and committed.”
Blount Today will be 7 years old in August. “We’re still evolving, but the basic premise this newspaper was founded on, the ideas, values and direction that a group of four people sat down in 2004 and outlined as what we wanted to do here, are still the same,” she says. “We do new things and different things and are always looking for ways to become even more important to this community, but the basic philosophy is still the same: We are committed to our community.”
Here is Sherri Gardner Howell:
What is your favorite quote from television or a movie?
“My favorite quote is from Martin Luther King, so I’m sure it was on television at some point: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’”
What are you guilty of?
“I’m a little obsessive about my work. Ok, a lot obsessive.”
What is your favorite material possession?
“My mother’s first engagement ring that was later worn by my grandmother until the day she died.”
What are you reading currently?
“I Remember Nothing,” by Nora Ephron.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
“I am constantly embarrassed when I can’t remember someone’s name. Just a few weeks ago I introduced John Hinkle to my neighbor by saying, ‘This is Rick Shepard and his wife, Vicki Hinkle.’ Sometimes my brain is just completely asleep.”
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
“Win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, spend two weeks in the finest hotel in New York City and see two plays every day and live long enough to tell my grandchildren embarrassing things about their fathers.”
What is one word others often use to describe you and why?
“I really wish I could say loyal, trustworthy, passionate, kind, or any of 100 others, but we all know it’s ‘workaholic.’”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
“I’m 56. I have a list.”
What is your passion?
“My family, my friends and community journalism.”
With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a long lunch?
“My mother and father, together. My dad died when I was 6, and I have very few memories of them as a couple.”
If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?
“Feb. 25, 1961, Ellis Auditorium in Memphis; Elvis played two charity shows. He was 26 years old and still just a kid who just loved to sing.”
What is the best present you ever received in a box?
“A vase from my paternal grandmother on my wedding day that my father bought for his beloved Aunt Belle when he was in the Air Force.”
What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?
“My mother gave me unending advice and all of it was insightful and often funny. Just to pull one out of the hat, how about: ‘Don’t ever give anyone the power to steal your dreams.’”
Other than your parents, who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
“Personally, my husband and family for providing such a solid foundation of love and acceptance that I didn’t worry about failing. Professionally, Harry Moskos for telling me I had leadership abilities and then pushing me into positions where I had to try. And Bruce Hartmann for seeing past my faults, opening opportunities I would have never dreamed of and then teaching me how to be successful.”
What’s the worst job you have ever had?
“Suckering tobacco in the hot North Carolina sun in my grandfather’s fields.”
What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon and why?
“Superman and The Mighty Thor.”
What irritates you?
“People who don’t have the courage of their convictions.”
What’s one place in Blount County everyone should visit?
“Blount Today on a Tuesday night. I promise it would give you a whole new insight into this twice-weekly miracle.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself at 18?
“Don’t skip every class that isn’t English or Journalism.”
What is your greatest fear?
“I don’t deal well with bad things happening to the people I love.”
I still can’t quite get the hang of…
“Touch pads on the computer.”
If you could do one impulsive thing, what would it be?
“Book that 14-day cruise down the Amazon River that keeps calling my name.”