By SHERRY DIGMON
Former Atmore Mayor Howard Shell passed away Saturday morning, August 21. He was 88.
He joined the Navy in March 1951, at the outbreak of the Korean War. Following his military discharge in 1955, he went to work at Monsanto (then Chemstrand), working as a research technician.
In 1984, he ran for Atmore City Council and won. In 1986, he was appointed mayor and served for the next 10 years, winning subsequent elections after his appointment. He was not mayor 1996 to 2000, but won reelection in 2000 and served until he retired in 2012.
His time in office was marked by two events – Hurricane Ivan and the beginning of Rivercane.
Mayor Shell’s leadership after Hurricane Ivan devastated Atmore in 2004 brought national attention. Thousands of trees were down all over the city. Power was out. Two days after the storm, the city still had no help.
“A TV station crew was up here and asked me for a few comments,” Mayor Shell said in a 2012 interview. “I said we’d do it ourselves if nobody was going to help us. I didn’t know my comments were going on a national network, but as a result we had people come to us from Tennessee, Oregon, Washington, California, Maine, New Hampshire and other states.”
The mayor put together a disaster team. Then-Congressman Jo Bonner came as did then-Senator Jeff Sessions.
“When I was on TV, they asked me what we needed, and I said we needed help cutting trees and clearing debris. We needed ice, water and other basics. Shortly after that, [then-] Gov. [Bob] Riley called and told me, ‘Help is coming, Mayor, just don’t get on national TV again.'” And Gov. Riley came to Atmore to assess the damage and offer assistance.
Of his accomplishments in office, Mayor Shell was perhaps most proud of the beginning of Rivercane. At his last council meeting in 2012, he displayed a picture of Alabama Senator Pat Lindsey (dec.), Alabama Representative Skippy White (dec.), Dr. Ullysses McBride, Jim Johnson, Jimmy Crook, former Gov. Don Siegelman and himself. The picture was taken at a meeting in Montgomery – a meeting the mayor described as “a pivotal point for the town.”
When Mayor Shell retired, the only occupants of Rivercane were Holiday Inn Express,
Hardee’s, McDonald’s, Hampton Inn and Waffle House. He had just announced that construction on Fairfield Inn and Suites would begin in 2013.
Howard Shell and Nannette Cobb married in May 1955. They moved from Atmore to Westminster Village in Spanish Fort in 2017. Mrs. Shell passed away in August 2020.
Mayor Shell was a regular contributor to “atmore” magazine, often writing about the city’s business and upcoming projects or events, but sometimes he talked about growing up in Walnut Hill, working in his family’s store and the values he learned there.
Flags are at half staff in Atmore this week to mark Mayor Shell’s passing.