Vallejo native Gregory Allen Howard, who wrote the scripts to popular films like “Remember the Titans” and “Ali,” died on Friday in Miami of heart failure, according to his spokesman, Jeff Sanderson.
Howard is survived by sister Lynette Henley, brother Michael Henley, two nieces and a nephew.
Howard grew up in the Country Club Crest in Vallejo and was the Vallejo High School Senior Class President in 1969-70. Thirty years later he was credited as the writer and author of “Remember the Titans,” starring Denzel Washington. He was the first Black screenwriter to write a drama that made over $100 million at the box office.
Howard said he shopped the story for “Remember the Titans” around Hollywood with no success. So he took a chance and wrote the screenplay himself.
“I was ready to quit, when I turned on the radio and the theme song from the Titans came on and I took it for a sign,” Howard said in 2009. “So, I decided to write the script. I was told I was crazy, and looking back, maybe I was. They didn’t expect it to make much money, but it became a monster, making $100 million, It made my career.”
Howard also produced and co-wrote 2019′s “Harriet,” about abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
“I got into this business to write about the complexity of the Black man,” Howard told the Times-Herald in 2009. “I wanted to write about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Garvey. I think it takes a Black man to write about Black men
Pelton Stewart, who spent two decades at Continentals of Omega Boys & Girls Club in Vallejo, remembers the first time he talked with Howard.
“I was executive director at the Boys & Girls Club and I called up Greg to speak with him. He immediately told me that he had something for me,” Stewart said on Monday. “He told me he had shipped something to me about a week ago and it was funny I was calling him then. What he shipped was a copy machine. Turns out that while Greg was trying to pitch “Remember the Titans” he was going to Kinko’s so much that they eventually told him that he needed to get his own copy machine because he was spending too much money. So he bought one and that was the copy machine he donated to us. When we first got it the only thing that had been printed out for it was the script to “Remember the Titans.” So that inspired many people at the Boys & Girls Club for years.
“Throughout life, he was always giving back to the community,” Stewart continued. “He was always talking to kids telling them that if you believed in three things — doing well at reading, writing and arithmetic — you could then do anything you wanted to in life. His passing is a great loss to our planet.”
Besides giving advice, Howard helped send people to college with a scholarship in his name. According to Stewart, $10,000 was given out to students a year with the scholarship and that figure would would eventually reach $20,000 a year. One of the students was Jomori Peterson, who graduated in 2008 from Howard University and had Greg as a mentor.
“He was just a fantastic person and he shared a lot of his skills with me,” Peterson said on Monday. “He made sure that everything you wrote was grammatically correct and that your dialogue when talking with others was very professional. He told me to use shorter sentences and cut all the bad stuff out of them.”
Peterson said he first met Howard at the Boys & Girls Omega Club, where he met his first mentor, Philmore Graham. Peterson was applying for the scholarship when he first Howard, but had no idea of his fame from “Remember the Titans.”
“I had not known of his prior greatness that came with him and it was amazing to know all of the good he had done for this community,” Peterson said, with a laugh.
Longtime friend Joe Johnson learned about Howard’s passing on Monday afternoon from the Times-Herald and was sad to see him go.
“He was huge role model for a lot of people in Vallejo because of what he contributed to society,” Johnson said. “And he was very humble about all of it.”
Howard often gave speeches at the Boys & Girls Club in Vallejo and would credit his Naval veteran father with instilling in him a respect for work, and his mother with unfailing support for his dreams.
“Whatever I said I wanted to be, and it changed all the time, she was behind me,” he said in 2018. “Like, I’d say, I’m going to be an astronaut,’ and she’d say, ‘you’ll be a great astronaut.'”
Besides identifying your dream and mapping out a way to achieve it, Howard stressed the “hard work” and perseverance portion of the equation.
“I wrote 18 screenplays before I sold one,” he said. “I know that hard work is not big with your generation, but it works. Get yourself into a structured environment and look for role models, and do what they do.”
Howard’s work also inspired Steve Jobs. The co-founder and CEO of Apple and Pixar understood dedication and success and relationships in building an empire. Only a few days before Jobs died at 56 from pancreatic cancer, he invited Tim Cook, the heir to the Apple throne, to his Palo Alto home for a screening of “Remember the Titans.”
“It’s amazing. This may be the coolest thing that’s ever happened in my life,” Howard said at the time. “He knew he was passing away. He knew he had maybe a week. And he would take two hours and, rather talk (to Cook) to convey what he needed to convey, he would watch this movie. It”s beyond belief. Here the greatest entrepreneur of the 20th century and a technology force says to his heir three days before he passes, ‘I have something here.’ It’s overwhelming.”
Years after “Remember the Titans” came out Howard was still not getting tired of seeing it on television.
“People never tire of it,” Howard said. “It’s one of those movies. It’s familiar and comfortable. Like a warm blanket.”
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