UPDATED: Fowler remembered as influential leader
Funeral planned Friday for former mayor, MLA, provincial court judge
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012 06:00 am
People who knew him best are remembering Richard Fowler as a leader and mentor.
The former St. Albert mayor, MLA and provincial court judge died Sunday morning at the age of 80.
A long-standing community leader, Fowler had been battling complications resulting from pneumonia, which he contracted in November, said Mayor Nolan Crouse. Fowler was admitted to hospital last Thursday and died early Sunday morning.
“He loved his political life, he loved being mayor and the political work that he did,” said wife Dawne Fowler. “It was challenging at the time when he was mayor … but he loved to work and he loved the challenges.”
The news of Fowler's passing came almost 47 years to the day after he was first elected to office in St. Albert.
“He has always demonstrated such a strong ethic and such a strong code of conduct and a strong code of integrity,” Crouse said. “I think that that's the reputation that we want out of community leaders … and he demonstrated that in everything he did.”
He served twice as mayor of St. Albert, first elected on July 7, 1965 with 744 votes – almost twice as many as his opponent. This followed a turbulent time in St. Albert's political history, when the 1964 election results were declared invalid as a result of problems at the Grandin Park polling station, one of just three used that election.
“He was one of many leaders, but a significant leader who set the stage and set the tone for what St. Albert should be,” Crouse said. “When he was first elected as mayor in 1965, St. Albert was just a town. St. Albert developed its character and its reputation a lot in part because of him.”
He did not seek re-election in 1968 and instead took a 15-year break from politics, when he earned two degrees from the University of Alberta.
Fowler had quit school after Grade 11 and went on to work as a heating and cooling salesman. This past April, at a lunch held in his honour, he told students at Richard S. Fowler Catholic Junior High School that his job hadn't been secure because he didn't have an engineering degree.
Fowler told the students that, during his first term as mayor, St. Albert was involved in a high-profile lawsuit against a local developer. This lawsuit sparked his interest in the legal system and inspired him to pursue a law degree, he said.
He went on to get a degree in political science followed by a law degree, which ultimately allowed him to serve as a provincial court judge, which he did for more than a decade.
“I want to leave you with some fatherly advice: Work hard now to determine what your gifts are,” Fowler told the students. “Find a way to get paid doing what you love. You will be successful.”
Fowler returned to public life in 1980 when he was acclaimed mayor. He served until 1989, winning re-election by acclamation in 1983 and with nearly 70 per cent of the vote in 1986.
Anita Ratchinsky served as alderman for three years during Fowler's second stint as mayor. She said he had a profound effect on her and is the sole reason she decided to run for mayor in 1989.
“He was a great teacher, a great leader and certainly great for the city of St. Albert in his time,” said Ratchinsky, who served as major from 1989 to 1998. “He was a tremendous mentor and really did direct me towards politics . . . and I want to thank him for that.”
In 1989, after his second term as mayor, Fowler ran as the Progressive Conservative candidate for the St. Albert riding and beat out Liberal Len Bracko.
Richard Plain, former St. Albert mayor, served as Fowler's campaign manager from 1989 onwards.
“He personified the best in St. Albert and that was reflected in his leadership while serving in the many different capacities,” Plain said. “I judge him as one of my very best friends and judge him as someone to emulate as a leader, as a contributor [and] as a volunteer in the community.”
Plain said Fowler was “Mr. St. Albert” because he was a part of everything and had an instrumental role in building the foundation of the city, both as a politician and community member.
“Dick had that classic profile of a mayor – he was a big guy, appeared on the surface to be very imposing and perhaps stern, but inside, he was a very compassionate, loving and caring man,” Plain said.
Under then-premier Don Getty, Fowler was appointed solicitor general and held that position until 1992, when he moved to municipal affairs and native affairs.
In 1992, Fowler was honoured with having a school named after him. He told students at the school earlier this year that it was his biggest accomplishment.
“I have been honoured with many awards over the years, but none have meant more to me than having a school named after me,” he said. “Awards and plaques fade away and are forgotten. This school is a constant reminder to me and I am humbled each time I drive by.”
Fowler served as justice minister under Ralph Klein until losing his seat to Bracko in 1993.
“He had the respect of St. Albert as well as the province,” Bracko said. “He had great respect for political life and made me appreciate the amount of work people put into it and contribute to the community.”
Fowler's defeat was blamed largely on reports he had used $20,000 of a housing allowance available to out-of-town MLAs, despite living roughly 30 minutes from the legislature.
“He loved his provincial politics,” Dawne said. “He said that was the hardest that he's ever worked, absolutely, without a doubt, the hardest he ever worked.”
She said even though he was devastated to lose his seat, it was a “blessing in disguise” as it allowed him to spend time with family.
Following the 1993 upset, Fowler served as a provincial court judge, mostly in family and youth court.
John Donahoe, Crown prosecutor, attended three years of law school at the University of Alberta with Fowler and eventually stood before him in court.
“Dick was just a great guy and well respected and well liked,” he said, adding the two became lifelong friends in law school.
He said Fowler had a significant impact on the legal system, through his involvements as justice minister and judge.
“No matter his political involvement, Dick Fowler earned everything he got and his appointment of a judge surprised no one. He was just that kind of a person and he was an excellent judge,” Donahoe said.
Born April 12, 1932 in Edson, Alta., Fowler called St. Albert home for more than 50 years. He was the father of six and stepfather of two and had a total of 13 grandchildren.
“We just had a lot of adventures together,” Dawne said. “We both faced cancer and he had open-heart surgery and he nearly drowned on a trip to the Dominican Republic and we had a van accident. Just about all our adventures, there's some kind of excitement.”
A prayer service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Holy Family Parish at 75 Poirier Ave. The funeral takes place Friday at 11 a.m. at Holy Family Parish.
Crouse has ordered all flags to fly at half-mast on the day of Fowler's funeral service. He said council will look into honouring Fowler further, but said no discussions have taken place.