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Founder of PR firm and IU's Little 500 dies

Howard S. "Howdy" Wilcox, the son of a 500-Mile Race winner and founder of Indiana University's Little 500-bicycle race, died Monday at 82.

As president of Howard S. Wilcox Inc., he also was one of the city's first big-league public relations men. He founded the firm in 1966. And Mr. Wilcox did have the publicity man's flair for promotion. Besides the now-famous Little 500, held each spring at Indiana University, he was instrumental in founding the Indianapolis 500 Festival.

Mr. Wilcox was named for his father, Howard Wilcox, who won the Indy 500 in 1919 and was killed four years later at a racetrack in Altoona, Pa. The accident left 3-year-old son an orphan, the child's mother having died two years earlier. Mr. Wilcox wad raised by a grandmother and went on to graduate from IU, where he was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

He was "plain-spoken and did not suffer fools," recalls Donald Davidson, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's historian. "He was military in approach. He wasn't much for pussy-footing."

Mr. Wilcox was more than just an advisor to movers and shakers, say friends and colleagues. He was a mover and shaker himself. "When I started out, Howdy's name was the first one out of people's mouths," says Myra Borshoff, a partner in the public relations firm Borshoff Johnson Matthews.

Bob Gildea, who worked with Mr. Wilcox for many years, said he helped win approval in the Indiana General Assembly for banks to operate across county lines. Mr. Wilcox also took a lead role in creating the Indiana System for Statewide Medical Education. He also had a heart for the downtrodden. When he'd get panhandled, Gildea says, "Howdy would always dig into his wallet for a five or even a ten."

From 1952 to 1966, Mr. Wilcox worked for Central Newspapers Inc., former parent company of The Indianapolis Star, including a stint as director of personnel and public relations for The Star and The Indianapolis News.

He served on numerous boards, including those of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, United States Auto Club, Indiana University Foundation, WFYI (Channel 20), Washington Park Cemetery, the Columbia Club and the Athletic Club.

An Army veteran of World War II, his decorations include the Silver Star and the British Military Cross. He was a major general in the U.S. Army Reserve and commander of the Indiana National Guard's 38th Infantry Division.

Services will be at 11 a.m. October 3 in Flanner & Buchanan Broad Ripple Mortuary, with calling from 4 to 8 p.m. October 2.

Memorial contributions may be made to the IU Student Foundation, in care of the Little 500 Scholarship Fund, or Lake Wawasee Conservancy.

Survivors include his wife, Joyce Dunford Wilcox; sons Howard S. Jr., Don, David, Scott R. Wilcox; stepsons J. Randolph, Patrick R. Lowe; stepdaughters Kristine Hackleman, Kathleen Gulliam; sister Marian Wilcox Dalton; nine grandchildren; six step-grandchildren; a great-grandchild.