Known privately and professionally by his middle name of Melvyn, George Melvyn Howe was born on 7 April 1920 in Abercynon, Wales. After leaving Caerphilly Grammar School, he entered the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth to study geography, but the Second World War intervened and he joined the Meteorological Branch of the Royal Air Force in 1940, progressing to the rank of Squadron Leader and working in air photographic intelligence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Upon demobilisation in 1946, Howe resumed his studies at Aberystwyth, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Geography with First Class Honours in 1947 and marrying Patricia Graham Fennell in the same year. In 1948, he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Geography at Aberystwyth, where he combined his teaching duties with research for the higher degrees of Master of Science (awarded in 1949) and Doctor of Philosophy (awarded in 1957). He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Geography in 1961 and to Reader in Geography and Anthropology in 1964. Three years later, he and his family relocated to Scotland when he was appointed Head of the Department of Geography and the first incumbent of the Chair of Geography at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
Howe’s research interests centred on the emerging field of medical geography, but also embraced social geography, meteorology, climatology, hydrology, and the Soviet Union (in 1955, he became the first geographer to visit the latter region since the Second World War). He published extensively, some of his most notable works being A National Atlas of Diseases and Mortality in the United Kingdom (1963), for which he received the McGill Memorial Award of the Royal Geographical Society; A World Geography of Human Diseases (1977); The Soviet Union: a Geographical Survey (1983), and People, Environment, Disease and Death (1997). In 1974, the University of Strathclyde awarded him the higher degree of Doctor of Science in recognition of his published work.
During his career, Howe was a member of the Council of the Institute of British Geographers (of which he became President in 1985), the Medical Geography Committee of the Royal Geographical Society, and the Royal Society's British National Committee for Geography. He also served as the British Representative on the Medical Geography Commission of the International Geographical Union. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. He served as President of the University of Strathclyde Staff Club in 1971. He retired from the University of Strathclyde in 1985, and the title of Emeritus Professor was subsequently conferred upon him. He and his wife returned to Wales and settled in the seaside town of Porthcawl, where he continued to research, write and participate in local activities and societies, including the Probus Club, of which he became President. Emeritus Professor George Melvyn Howe died on 27 August 2012.