Project HOPE president announces retirement

Dr. John P. Howe III, president and CEO of Project Hope in Millwood, left, cares for a young patient while aboard on the USNS Mercy hospital ship off the coast of Indonesia in this undated photo. Howe recently announced his retirement from the organization, effective next December. Photo courtesy Project Hope

After 14 years as president and CEO of Project HOPE, Dr. John P. Howe III has announced his retirement, effective at the end of this year.

Howe, 71, had known of the Clarke County-based organization since he was a boy growing up in Maine, when he used to read Weekly Reader stories featuring photos of the original white SS HOPE hospital ship. It was converted from the USS Consolation and donated by President Eisenhower in 1958, he said.

Described by Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) as the largest such vessel deployed during peacetime, the SS HOPE was retired in 1974. In 2006, the organization began staffing the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy and in 2010 the USNS Comfort.

This year, Howe said, “For the first time ever, both Navy hospital ships will be deployed at the same time.”

“Project HOPE is stronger than ever,” he said. “[It] will continue to sail the high seas of today’s world in making a difference in the lives of those in need.”

Board certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease, Howe said he welcomed the opportunity to join Project HOPE because it fulfilled two childhood dreams he previously wasn’t sure how he would unite: becoming a doctor or working in foreign service.

Pursuing a career in medicine, he studied to become a cardiologist. Later named chair in health policy at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas, he served as the center’s chief executive for 15 years.

“Fourteen years ago, HOPE gave me the opportunity to realize my other dream that had begun when I was a child,” he said. “I was able to realize the dream of making a difference throughout the world.”

Since 2005, Project HOPE has sailed 42 missions with the U.S. Navy, Howe said. Before that, the Navy deployed the Mercy and the Comfort for war-related and humanitarian missions, such as helping out in New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by providing shelter for firefighters and laundry capabilities for caregivers.

Now, in combination with Project HOPE, the ships are used with even more intensity under the addition of 7,000 medically credentialed volunteers from all 50 states and some foreign countries volunteering their time in response to health or environmental crises, including tsunamis, earthquakes and the current Ebola crisis in Africa.

“I think the strength of Project HOPE lies in its people, and we are fortunate in having a CEO profile board, an internationally recognized senior leadership team and very talented professionals in the field, and we have exceptional volunteers from all walks of health care in the U.S. and around the world. So our most precious asset is our people,” Howe said.

During his tenure, Project HOPE expanded upon its main practice areas of distributing medicine; treating infectious disease like tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes; strengthening health systems; and promoting the health education and life improvement of women and children.

Project HOPE has clinics in the Dominican Republic and South Africa, a children’s cancer hospital in the Middle East and an expanded children’s hospital in China. Its geographic coverage extends to 45 countries.

“It’s been a busy life,” Howe said. “Those memories will always be with me.”

Over the next year, Howe will serve as counsel to the Project HOPE board of directors during its search for a new president and CEO. The search committee will consider internal and external candidates to find the most highly qualified individual to continue building on what the organization called the defining characteristics of Howe’s tenure:

“World-renowned health education and medical care; a strong, deep professional staff; and the thousands of volunteer doctors and nurses who work on a global scale,” a release from Project HOPE stated.

But announcing his retirement hasn’t slowed down Howe.

“Currently, my days are just as busy or busier than they were a year ago,” he said.

“I was recently in Shanghai, Beijing and Seattle in a five-day period and I will soon be in the Philippines and Indonesia, and later this spring in India visiting our people and programs,” he said.

“Post December plans have one priority, and that is coming to know nine energetic grandchildren and dynamic wife Tyrrell,” he said. “I think that will be a full time job.”

Contact Project HOPE at http://www.projecthope.org.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com