WHEN MAYOR NUTTER decided to beef up the long-dormant Commission on Literacy in 2010, he turned to people of proven devotion to community improvement.

Among them was Douglas C. Howell, who ran a company that provided beauty products for African-Americans and was long involved with civic-improvement causes.

Calling illiteracy in the city a "serious crisis," the mayor put the 16 new members of the commission to work with strong words about how illiteracy was undermining the city's economy.

It was the kind of challenge Doug Howell relished. He was already actively involved with numerous other community organizations, especially those involving disadvantaged children, including Children's Services Inc., the Philadelphia Society for Protection of Children and others.

Douglas Conwell Howell, who took over the Howell Brothers Chemical Co. founded by his older brothers to produce hair products for African-Americans, a onetime amateur boxer, Navy veteran of World War II and devoted family patriarch, died July 29 of congestive heart failure. He was 88 and lived in Wynnefield.

"He was committed to the betterment of the city and was a leader of many charitable boards," his family said.

Doug was born in Philadelphia to Edward Howell II and the former Meta Cooper. They owned Howell Pharmacy at 58th and Race streets. He grew up in West Philadelphia and graduated from Overbrook High School.

As an amateur boxer, he won the city's welterweight Golden Gloves championship.

Doug served in the Navy from 1943-45 in the Pacific theater of World War II.

After the Navy, he went on to graduate from North Carolina Central University in Durham, where he formed many lasting friendships and was an active member of the university's Philadelphia alumni chapter.

After graduation, he joined the chemical company, founded by his older brothers in the '40s as a hair-products company catering to African-Americans. It became a leader in the cosmetics industry.

Doug eventually became president and chief executive officer. Under his leadership, the company produced a variety of all-natural, vitamin-based products under the Vita-D label.

"He worked tirelessly with staff and consultants to deliver high-quality products designed to address the hair and skin-care needs of African-Americans and other people of color," his family said.

Doug married the former Frances Taylor on March 29, 1958. She was a teacher in Philadelphia and Camden public schools and a community activist. She died in 2004 at age 70.

His family described Doug as a "people person" who enjoyed socializing at various clubs, including the Philadelphia Commissioners' Club and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Guardsmen.

He was a devoted tennis player and competed in local tournaments. He was a board member of the Chamonix Tennis Club. He also enjoyed the camaraderie of the golf course.

"Doug lived life to its fullest," his family said. "He loved his family, friends, clubs, community service, social functions and traveling. He was truly a 'people person' who attracted friends from all walks of life.

"Memories of Doug's quick wit, fun-loving nature and admirable work ethic will be cherished by a multitude of family and friends."

He is survived by two daughters, Nancy Christian and Diane Howell, and two grandsons.

Services: A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.