[Neo smartpen N2] [Article] Meet the 79-year-old who writes faster than you talk

Frank Howell doesn’t care that it’s 2015, that technology dominates our world, or that somewhere out there, a grandmother is learning how to text emojis on her iPhone.


Pen and paper suit this 79-year-old just fine, thank you very much.
Howell is fluent in shorthand, the old-school note-taking style popular among secretaries for much of the 20th century.

He uses the skill as a Dallas County court reporter, taking down verbatim every word said “on the record” in the courtroom. It’s an onerous task, even for colleagues who rely on high-tech keyboards. Howell is one of three remaining “pen writers” in Texas who are active and licensed to do the job by hand.

At a time when electronics infiltrate every aspect of our lives, Howell acts as both master and fierce protector of his dying trade.

He’s also somewhat of a legal legend in Dallas.

Howell has been on the job for more than half a century, longer than many practicing attorneys have been alive. Over the years, he’s witnessed riveting trials, quirky courtroom spectacles and significant moments in Dallas County history, too. In the 1960s, he filled in as court reporter during part of the Jack Ruby trial.

These days, Howell works part time at the criminal courthouse, polishing his reputation as a straight-shooter whose court records, and interactions with others, are as frank as they are funny.

“They like having me [in the courtroom] because I’m a crotchety old man,” Howell said, adding that he won’t hesitate to scold an attorney for acting disrespectful of a judge.

“What are they going to do?” he said with a smile. “Fire me?”





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