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Ray Fowler: Longtime Claremonter, educator

Longtime Claremonter, preservationist, counselor, educator

Known for his deep voice, warm smile, puns, and the calm air of having everything under control, longtime Claremont resident C.R. “Ray” Fowler died peacefully in hospice care Wednesday, March 25 at his daughter’s home in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was 91.

He was predeceased just two months earlier by his wife of 67 years, Barbara Fowler.

Ray was born in 1928 to Clarence and Edith Fowler. Raised in Long Beach, he loved to surf the world famous “wave,” before it was wiped out by the Long Beach breakwater. He was active in the Congregational Church Pilgrim Fellowship as a teen.

Following in the footsteps of his mother (Edith Moore, ’26), he attended Pomona College, majoring in English literature. While at college he served as the youth minister at Claremont United Church of Christ, and began dating Barbara Blakeley, a fellow Sagehen. They married shortly after her graduation in 1952 and moved together to Northern California.

He completed his divinity degree at the Pacific School of Religion and worked part time as minister to young adults at Oakland First Methodist Church, where Ms. Fowler founded the nursery school. 

The couple happily moved back to Claremont in 1954 when Mr. Fowler was hired as the assistant minister at CUCC. Their daughter Sarah was born later that year, followed by Lauren in 1957.

In 1959 the young Fowler family accepted a posting as educational missionaries to Izmir, Turkey. Upon their return to the US in 1962, Mr. Fowler transitioned from the ministry into counseling, building a private practice in marriage and family therapy while pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Southern California.

He was a founding faculty member at Pitzer College in 1964, and taught extension courses in human behavior and sociology at several campuses in the University of California system throughout the 1960s.

The Fowlers were both committed to the principles of equal rights and equal opportunity, and led innovative educational and community programs in the “War on Poverty.”

Ms. Fowler taught in the first Head Start program in the neighboring town of Pomona, and Mr. Fowler led in-service training programs for men and women working in opportunity centers throughout Riverside County, building their interpersonal, professional and counseling skills with the goal of increasing their effectiveness in supporting their community.

After 10 years in private counseling practice and college level instruction, Mr. Fowler became the executive director of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, establishing the new AAMFT national office in the Claremont Village.

For the next 10 years he enjoyed walking to work and being a part of the Village community, and was known to slip into the recording studio next door to provide voice talent on short notice.

After he retired from the AAMFT, he decided to invest more seriously in the Village and bought A. Kline Chocolatier on Second Street (ostensibly a selfless act of sacrifice to ensure the continued presence of a crucial small family business).

Mr. Fowler served on several city and community commissions over the years, and his was a familiar face—and voice—at meetings and hearings. Among the many causes championed by the Fowlers over the years and described in more detail in Ms. Fowler’s obituary (www.claremont-courier.com) were the Claremont Historic District, libraries, museums, cemeteries, education programs, Village merchants, sustainability and trees.

Perhaps above all, the Fowlers loved trees; they worked tirelessly against the many threats faced by Claremont’s trees over the years. The magnificent ginkgo in their front yard was on Pomona College’s botany department’s annual walking tour, and the piles of brilliant golden leaves in the yard drew in friends and neighbors to play from blocks around.

In 2017, the Fowlers moved to Louisiana to be near their daughter Sarah and her family. A year later, a dear friend sent a box of ginkgo leaves from “the tree” to the Fowlers. Mr. Fowler’s thank-you email said, “That sudden sight of those few Ginkgo leaves made us realize that, of all the symbolic elements of our sixty-one years of life in that location, unchanging from the day we moved in, ‘The Tree,’ and especially its leaves epitomized the special stability of our life there.”

Mr. Fowler helped plan an informal family celebration of life and tree planting ceremony for Ms. Fowler, held March 13, in their granddaughter’s garden in Louisiana. Due to COVID-19 health advisories and restrictions, he attended from his retirement center via FaceTime, with three other phones simulcasting FaceTime from Utah and Australia around the little ginkgo tree. Mr. Fowler led the opening and closing prayers, and his great granddaughters sprinkled some of Ms. Fowler’s ashes on the roots, along with some California beach sand.

The family has not identified where and when the next Fowler memorial ginkgo will be planted, but it will have ashes from the two of them and California beach sand when it happens.

He is survived by his daughters, Sarah (Phil Boswell) of Shreveport, Louisiana, and Lauren (Michael O’Malley) of Park City, Utah; four grandchildren; two great granddaughters; the extended Blakeley and Blanchard families; five godchildren; and dear friends across the country and globe.

Donations in Mr. Fowler’s memory may be made to Save the Redwoods League at www.savetheredwoods.org; Sustainable Claremont at www.sustainableclaremont.org; or Claremont Heritage at www.claremontheritage.org.

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