William Howard Poe: Upholsterer spoke volumes in silence

William Howard Poe

Upholsterer spoke volumes in silence

By Kenneth Heard

June 13, 2015

William Howard Poe was born deaf and couldn’t speak, but he could say more with a look than most could with words.

“He didn’t have to say anything,” said longtime friend Dee Dee Sheffield. “He had an aura that emanated from him. His eyes would twinkle, and his smile would say a thousand words.”

Poe, 84, the owner of Howard’s Upholstery Shop in Little Rock since 1958, died Thursday in a Little Rock hospice after a brief battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Janette Poe; a son, Neal Poe; and a daughter, Julie Poe-Caldwell, all of Little Rock.

Poe was born in Leachville in Mississippi County in 1930 and graduated from the Arkansas School for the Deaf, where he learned the upholstery trade. He worked for Continental Trailways for 13 years reupholstering bus seats.

In 1958, Poe opened his upholstery business on Van Buren Street in Little Rock, and 21 years later he moved the shop to its location on Hinson Loop in west Little Rock.

“He was a hardworker,” Neal Poe said of his father. “His work ethic was amazing. He worked at the shop up until six weeks ago.

“He told my mother a few months ago he thought he’d die at his sewing machine.”

Poe missed work only two times during his 57-year career there. Once was when he was treated for prostate cancer. The other was when he underwent bypass surgery. He returned from his heart surgery 30 days later, cutting fabric at the shop while standing up because it was too painful to sit and work.

“He was so concerned about everybody else, even when he was sick,” Neal Poe said. “He didn’t focus on his own problems.

“He was always the happiest when he made others happy.”

Carrie Wilson, a nurse for the Surgical Clinic of Arkansas in Little Rock, said she grew up in Poe’s home. Poe and his wife often baby-sat Wilson and her sister.

“We were like their second set of kids,” she said. “We spent every Thanksgiving at their home.”

Wilson credits her love of coffee to Poe.

When she was young, Poe would make his coffee and then offer her a teaspoon taste.

“I think about him every time I drink coffee,” she said.

He also displayed his love of sports, mainly Razorback football and basketball, and the St. Louis Cardinals.

“He never had a bad thing to say about anyone, ever,” Wilson said. “Unless he was fussing at a referee when he watched a game.”

Poe often did business with those who used his upholstery shop. He ate at restaurants that had booths he upholstered and bought products from other places where he did work.

He met Sheffield while doing work for the Ruffin and Jarrett Funeral Home in Little Rock, where she works.

The funeral home is handling his services.

“He was quite loyal and appreciative,” Sheffield said. “His family came first, but his work was way up there. He was a perfectionist, and he led by his own example.”

Wilson said she remembers Poe arriving at his home about 4:45 p.m. each day after work and greeting his wife, then preparing for dinner.

“He’d do that every day,” she said. “That was his routine for so many years.”

Poe said his father passed away at 4:45 p.m. Thursday.

“He was a beacon to everyone,” Sheffield said. “He was a compassionate man who didn’t have to speak. He communicated with his smile and his body language.

“His hugs were the best ones in the world.”

State Desk on 06/13/2015

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