On Wednesday, January 30th I sat in a metal folding chair beside a wooden kitchen island, listening to my beloved carrot-topped cooking mentor, Weezie Mott, begin her evening class. “Before I start,” she said, “I need to let everyone know Howard is in the hospital. When he started acting strangely I thought he had suffered a stroke, but that wasn’t it. The doctors found a small tumor causing fluid on his brain. So please hold him in your thoughts. Now, onto the first recipe…”
I don’t know why it surprised me that Weezie carried on with the evening as if her almost 94-year-old husband was off at the dentist. When the phone rang part way through class recipe, she dropped her dishtowel and bolted from the kitchen.
We waited for heartbreaking news, glancing sideways at each other in apprehension. She returned in minutes with a broad smile and said, “Good news! Howard is alert and improving! All his nurses adore him.”
Of course they adored him. When you look up “adorable” in the dictionary it should read, “See Howard Mott.” Personable, charming and humorous, Howard was a clear favorite for a Best Husband in Alameda contest. He minced onions before we arrived, acted as sommelier for our wine, and scrubbed pots and pans after we headed home to bed. All of us agreed we could master any recipe with Howard by our side.
Howard wasn’t just model husband and charming host. Born in 1919, he was an Ensign in the Naval Reserve and survived a tour of duty in the Aleutian Islands in a patrol bombing squadron. In 1943, he served in the Central Pacific Ocean’s Marshall-Marianas Islands and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the US Air Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal along with several others.
When he returned stateside in 1945, he trained pilots in San Diego where he met Mary Louise (Weezie) Tully, a Navy nurse, at a Hotel Del Coronado tea dance. After a whirlwind courtship, they married. In their warm kitchen sixty-eight years later he still behaved like her smitten suitor.
After the war Howard served in D.C., Morocco, Italy, Greece and Turkey. He completed Naval Post Graduate School in Intelligence and German Language Training, followed by an assignment as a Liaison Officer for the Commander in Chief, European Forces attached to the Naval Attaché’s office for the US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. The Motts came to Alameda when Howard became Staff Intelligence Officer with the Commander Fleet Air Pacific, then left again for D.C., then Italy, finally retiring with the rank of Commander.
Howard’s second career involved public safety emergency communications. He planned Walnut Creek’s 911 response system – basically unaltered ever since. He created a combined police/fire/local government radio system and dispatch center for Redwood City that became a model for many other communities. He retired a second time after 14 years of local government service.
For an intelligent and accomplished man accustomed to following orders, I don’t think he learned to obey the command, “Sit still.” For the next 18 years, the Motts spearheaded “Motoring with the Motts” – providing personalized food and wine tours in Italy, France, Greece, Spain and Turkey. When they decided to end the tours, Howard continued his post-retirement partnership with Weezie by keeping her cooking classes running smoothly.
In our February 20th class, Weezie said, “Before I begin, I need to let you know that Howard is in intensive care. The doctor reconnected him to life support because he wasn’t doing well on his own. Thank you for all your kind words and notes. Please continue to keep him in your thoughts. Now, on with the recipes…”
I swear, they made the USS Hornet from scrap Weezie steel. Her strength amazed us all.
A few days later, a friend called me to make sure I had heard the news. Howard James Mott passed away on Thursday, February 28th. He requested there be no services and donated his body to UCSF for research.
Weezie didn’t cancel our one remaining class. At the start of the evening she announced that she intended to make a donation to KQED in Howard’s memory on behalf of all her students. If we contributed we could take home one of the cookbooks laid out on her dining room table. When I asked her to select one for me, she gave me one on the origins of the “Slow Food” movement. It wasn’t a cookbook, but an almanac on a subject dear to them.
I am neither a “foodie” nor an accomplished chef. Quite frankly, I am an admitted “cooking class voyeur” – insecure in the kitchen. But I might just try a recipe or two from the 2013 Weezie Mott Cooking School winter series.
Knowing Howard’s spirit might be there by my side, it’s bound to turn out well.
Author’s note: For a sample of a Weezie evening, please read my piece published on Alameda Patch – Cooking with Weezie. http://alameda.patch.com/articles/cooking-with-weezie