Emory Report
March 7, 2005
Volume 57, Number 22


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March 7 , 2005
New trustee, former U.S. Rep Tillie Kidd Fowler dies at 62

BY Michael terrazas

Tillie Kidd Fowler, a member of Emory’s Board of Trustees and former congresswoman from Florida, died Wednesday, March 2, in Jacksonville’s St. Vincent’s Medical Center after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage. She was 62.

“The University has lost one of its most eminent alumnae and devoted friends,” said President Jim Wagner. “Our loss and her family’s is immeasureable. But we can be grateful for her extraordinary commitment to serving the common good, as we can honor her by remembering and advancing that commitment.”

A native of Milledgeville, Ga., Fowler was the daughter of former Georgia state Sen. Culver Kidd. She graduated from Emory College in 1964 and from the School of Law in 1967. As an undergraduate, Fowler was elected to Mortar Board and served as president of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Fowler’s husband, Buck Fowler, also is an Emory graduate (’64C, ’67L), as is their daughter, Tillie, ’96C.

Fowler was elected an alumni representative to the Board of Trustees (BOT) in November 2004 and attended the board’s most recent meeting in February. She received the Emory Medal, the University’s highest honor for alumni, in 1996.

BOT Chair Ben Johnson III, who was a student at Emory College at the same time as Fowler, said she was one of the first wave of women to go through Emory’s law school in the 1960s when his father, Ben Johnson Jr., was the school’s dean; she was the keynote speaker for Emory College’s “50 Years of Women at Emory” celebration last year.

“Like everyone else, I’m shocked and numb,” Johnson said. “I spent about 10 hours with Tillie at the board meeting just a couple weeks ago; one of the things she asked me was, ‘How’s your dad?’ We were looking forward to having her active participation on the Development and University Relations Committee; what could be better than having someone of her stature act as an advocate on national legislation affecting higher education?”

“I had the privilege of writing the citation for Tillie Fowler when she received the Emory Medal,” said Vice President and Deputy to the President Gary Hauk, who served as University secretary at the time. “Clearly the loss of her experience, connections and wisdom at the very beginning of her term of service as a trustee is a blow to the University, as well as a profound sorrow for her family and friends.”

Known as a pioneer in Florida politics, Fowler was the first woman to serve as president of Jacksonville’s City Council. Colleagues say she combined a genteel demeanor with a gritty perseverance that belied her appearance. Once, in 1989, she had three council members arrested and detained to maintain a quorum so the council could pass the city budget. After serving seven years on the council, Fowler ran for Congress in 1992, winning the first of four terms. She did not seek re-election in 2000, instead becoming a partner in the firm of Holland & Knight, splitting time between the firm’s Jacksonville and Washington offices.

Fowler was known as a passionate advocate for the armed forces, serving on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee; she was mentioned as a possible secretary of the Navy in the Bush administration after she left Congress in 2000. In 1998 Fowler was named vice chair of the Republican Conference, which made her the highest-ranking woman in Congress.

“The phrase ‘Steel Magnolia’ may be a bit of cliché, but that’s what she was,” retired Navy Adm. Kevin Delaney told the Florida Times-Union. “She was always a lady but absolutely tenacious. When she knew she was right, she refused to take no for an answer.”

“[My wife] Columba and I offer our deepest condolences to the Fowler family as we mourn the loss of a great Floridian and committed public servant,” said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “Congresswoman Fowler was a great leader and was dedicated to making the lives of Floridians better. Other than my dad, Tillie was the kindest and most gentle person in public life I have ever met. She will be missed.”

“President and Mrs. Bush were deeply saddened by the loss of Rep. Tillie Fowler,” said White House spokesman Taylor Gross.

A memorial service was held Friday, March 4. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Tillie K. Fowler NROTC Scholarship Fund, Jacksonville University, 2800 University Blvd. North, Jacksonville, Fla., 32211-3394.