HARRY M. “PETE” HOWTON
In 2005, Pete founded Kingfisher Systems, Inc. with three colleagues from his prior company: Joseph G. Swick; Roy L. Reed, Jr.; and David Crawford. He led Kingfisher and served as the Chairman and Secretary of the Board and Chief Executive Officer from 2005-2015. From 2015-2017, Pete continued to serve Kingfisher as Chairman Emeritus.
Pete was and is the soul of Kingfisher. His values are our values. His vision is our vision.
Pete had a gift for bringing people together and creating a sense of team spirit. Over the years, he mentored countless employees in his business philosophy. He hosted his employees in his back yard for pig roasts and joined them in growing a beard or mustache each November to raise awareness of men’s health issues.
His spirit will live on through the people he touched throughout his life.
This page is dedicated to the memory of Pete. He will not be forgotten.
Pete was born in Bristol, VA, in 1942, the son of Harry G. Howton and Frances H. Howton. He grew up all over the world as the son of an Air Force officer, though his family had deep roots in Alabama. He lived in Japan, England, Morocco, Libya, and in various suburbs of Washington, D.C. He is a 1961 graduate of Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, VA. In 1966, he graduated with an engineering degree from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also played soccer, learned to scuba dive, and began his lifelong love of the sea.
After graduation, Pete served on a destroyer, the USS Brush, and then in Vietnam as a communications officer and as Officer in Charge of a Swift boat. He was a flag lieutenant and aide to Vice Admiral Parker Armstrong prior to attending Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. There he received an M.S. in physical oceanography. He then served on the frigate USS Donald B. Beary as weapons officer. His final Navy tour was as an electronics engineer upgrading the SOSUS underwater sound surveillance system. Pete retired from the Navy in 1975 and joined Syscon Corp. in San Diego, where he worked on passive acoustic simulation systems for the Navy.
During his 10 years with Syscon, Pete became a serial entrepreneur on the side, founding over a dozen small companies such as a successful children’s bookstore in La Jolla, CA, and a company that produced wooden dice-rolling boxes for backgammon players.
He moved to Virginia in the late 1980s and founded a series of government contracting firms named for marine birds: Kestrel Associates, Gray Hawk Systems and finally Kingfisher Systems, Inc. He was determined to be his own boss. He maxed out his credit cards and headquartered from home if he needed to. He started small but thought big.
In 2005, Pete engineered the sale of the award-winning Gray Hawk Systems, a company he had founded 10 years earlier in his basement, to ManTech International Corp. Until his recent illness, he remained actively involved in running Kingfisher, headquartered in Falls Church, VA. Pete’s companies have been on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies nine times, and he has been featured in many national and local publications.
Pete organized three reunions of his extended family that attracted up to 100 people each. He defined “family” expansively and valued it above all else. He taught every child in the family to fish, whether they wanted to or not. Another core value was education, and he funded many relatives and friends in their educational pursuits.
His first marriage was to Louise Alpert, with whom he had three children: Elizabeth Howton (Nana) of Falls Church, VA; Martha Sottosanti (Mark) of La Jolla, CA; and Christopher Howton (Donna) of San Diego, CA. He later married Barbara Francis, with whom he had two daughters, Sylvana Howton and Annabeth Howton, both of Falls Church, VA. In addition to his wife and five children, Pete is survived by two sisters and eight grandchildren.
On 6 July 2017, Pete passed away from abdominal cancer at his home surrounded by his family.