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Dr. Gregory Fowler

‘He loved excellence’

SOU professor, Chamber Music Concerts founder leaves legacy of greatness

By Allayana Darrow

Mail Tribune

As a retired Southern Oregon University biology professor and founder of the Chamber Music Concerts series in Ashland, Gregory Fowler’s legacy epitomizes a left-brain-rightbrain success.

Greg was a long-standing member of the Ashland community and also spent a lot of time trying to bring new kinds of culture and music and experience to the Rogue Valley, both as a musician and as an organizer,” said his sons, Alex and Andrew Fowler, recounting some of their father’s happiest moments interacting with musicians and participants in the Chamber Music Concerts series.

Fowler died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease Sept. 19 in Lake Oswego at age 87.

Fowler and son Alex inspired each other throughout their careers — in a high school philosophy class, Alex focused his final ethics paper on some of his father’s trailblazing research, which catalyzed Alex’s pursuit of higher education in bioethics and bolstered Greg’s commitment to the ethics side of genetics. Years later, Greg, Alex and another colleague co-founded the nonprofit Geneforum, one of the groups that propelled passage of the nation’s first genetic privacy law in 1995.

“During this time of teaching, lecturing and meeting with policy makers, Greg was most proud of his work developing a curriculum for science teachers, called Genomics for Everyone,” the family wrote in his obituary.

Anyone interested in offering donations in honor of Greg’s memory is encouraged to give to the Oregon Science Teachers Association, about which Greg cared deeply, Alex and Andrew said.

“The science really connected with his analytical side; he was also very committed to the humanities,” Alex said. “He was a strong believer in the importance of a well-rounded education, and he believed very much that science needed to be in a broader social, ethical, moral context.”

As more debilitating side effects began to present, the pandemic challenged continuity of care during Greg’s four-year battle with Parkinson’s. Still, his state of mind was nothing short of engaged.

“He was a believer that everyone has a responsibility to make a contribution to their community and he lived that value to the end,” Andrew said. “It’s certainly something that I take as an inspiration in my life as well.”

Born in Wichita in 1934 — quickly earning renown as an accomplished classical pianist starting in kindergarten — Greg earned degrees from Wich-ita State University and a PhD from Brown University before pursuing postdoctoral studies in genetics at the University of Oregon. He completed a fellowship at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany and returned to Oregon in 1976 to join the faculty at Southern Oregon State College (now SOU) as a professor of biology. He founded and directed the Churchill Scholars Honors program until his retirement in 1998.

He founded and served as artistic director for Chamber Music Concerts for 15 seasons, during which time the series featured more than 50 accomplished ensembles from the U.S. and abroad.

“In the spring of 1984, I was dreaming of a chamber music series in the Rogue Valley — and Ashland would be the ideal setting,” Greg wrote. “As a performing musician and the parent of two serious young string players, I knew that classical music is associated with more than just its creative aspects — the ingenuity of its composers, the skill of its musicians, the beauty of its sound — it is also a business, a world I didn’t know much about.”

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, 1984, the doors of the SOU Music Building recital hall closed and about 200 people were immersed in Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor — “what turned out to be one of the rare and stunning performances of not only the single surviving chamber music work in Verdi’s catalogue, but also the works by Beethoven and Haydn that followed,” Greg wrote of the CMC’s inaugural performance. Audiences doubled in size by the next summer.

Greg wrote that the core of chamber music is “keeping alive the qualities of attention, the kinds of human interactions, and the ways of knowing and experiencing that make our daily lives just a little bit better; a model of democracy where individual egos are sublimated to the collective good and where music-making is a conversation among equals.”

In 1979, Greg welcomed Darlene Southworth — the only woman faculty member in the SOU biology department for the next 15 years.

“I came there as a temporary hire for one quarter and (Greg) was just very kind to me, he was very encouraging, he shared his microscope, he helped me learn how to write grants,” Southworth said. “I still today appreciate that kind of encouragement that he gave me as a new person and the first woman in the department. I probably couldn’t have done it without him.”

Greg consistently fueled momentum behind the SOU honors program, which wouldn’t exist without his dedication to provide exceptional students with an avenue of advanced programming to express their talent and intellect, Southworth said. His vision and follow through carried over into every pursuit.

“He loved excellence,” Southworth said.

Greg’s bass baritone voice graced performance venues throughout his academic career and as the lead in Rogue Valley Opera productions, guest solo performances with the Rogue Valley Chorale and numerous solo and ensemble performances at the Britt Classical Festival.

Alex played cello in the symphony during his father’s last major performance, Verdi Requiem, with the Rogue Valley Symphony and Chorale — a memorable moment sharing the stage together. Greg sang privately until he couldn’t play the piano anymore, within the last couple of years, Alex said.

“For him, music represented the soul and the heart — how to communicate and connect with people on a more emotional level,” Alex said. “He lived his values through both of those, through his teaching and through music.”

In his notes, Greg kept a copy of a paper on music written by John Frohnmayer, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, reminding him that “music holds within itself a universality, a gentility and a respect for the human spirit that has the potential to transcend political boundaries and reunite us in a renewed appreciation of human frailty and human achievement.”

Among his range of talents, Greg was at home on a pair of cross-country skis traversing the base of Mount McLoughlin, Andrew said. A true outdoorsman, Greg spent time as a young man working as a ranger in Glacier National Park over the summers. The Cascade-Siskiyou mountain ranges called him back to Oregon.

Greg raised his sons skiing on Mount Ashland, sailing on Emigrant Lake and fishing on lakes up Dead Indian Memorial Road, with annual trips to Crater Lake and treasured spots in the backcountry, where Alex and Andrew intend to spread their father’s remains. An online memorial service will be held for friends and family Nov. 6.

“My father wrote to his grandchildren, ‘There is no respite from creating a meaningful and productive life. It takes much effort to give to others,’” Andrew said.

“We take a lot of pride in knowing he never gave up trying to make a difference and inspired all of us to do the same.”


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