Colby Remembers Professor and Botanist Bruce Fowles

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Associate Professor of Biology Bruce Fowles, circa 1996
By Laura Meader
June 29, 2020

Colby is remembering the life of Bruce E. Fowles, associate professor of biology, emeritus, who passed away June 23, 2020, in Washington, Maine. An expert on the flora of Maine, he was a wise and welcoming colleague and a devoted teacher at Colby for 36 years.

“Bruce was a great mentor to me, helping me figure out how to design a plant physiology course that would be of interest to undergraduates and address the most important questions in the field,” Professor of Biology Russ Johnson recalled about his first year at Colby when he faced teaching for the first time. “He was a strong advocate for education who supported new faculty coming into the department, getting their feet on the ground as strong teachers.”

Fowles completed undergraduate work at Brown University and earned his Ph.D. in biology from the University of California, Berkeley. He started teaching at Colby in 1967 and taught a wide range of courses in the fields of botany and evolutionary biology until he retired in 2003. 

In addition to his expertise on Maine’s flora, he held strong interests in fungi and lichens. In 1978 he edited the book The Heritage of our Maine Wildflowers, and during a sabbatical he surveyed aquatic fungi in Maine’s Kennebec River. He also developed an early computer application for population genetics.

There are those professors that you have in your college career who just stick with you your whole life. Bruce Fowles was one such mentor and friend,” said Trustee Dave Epstein ‘86, a horticulturist and meteorologist who remembers Fowles raising African violets under grow lights in his office. “His influence on me continues to shape how I see the natural world. He will remain an inspiration throughout my life.”

Johnson also recalls Fowles as a “straight shooter” who always spoke his mind, whether in department meetings or one-on-one conversations. He spoke from decades of experience, Johnson said, and had opinions about how the curriculum in the Biology Department should be structured, for example. “He said exactly what he thought,” Johnson said of Fowles, “and most of us found it refreshing. He was also good at listening to others, and he was thoughtful about what he said.”

Fowles was an avid runner who sometimes ran with colleagues, including Professor of Biology Cathy Bevier. “I’m grateful that Bruce got me back into running. We started in January of my first year and often used that time to talk about challenges and accomplishments in the classroom,” Bevier recalled. “Bruce kept a careful log of each of his runs, including pace and distance … always the scientist!” 

Fowles was also a cyclist, joining Colby’s Cycling Club as a faculty participant. He also practiced beekeeping, enjoyed fishing, and loved his dogs. But hIs passion was teaching, Johnson said. “He always emphasized the importance of teaching, that it was of the highest importance.”

Survivors include his wife, Rosemary, a daughter and a son, and two grandchildren. Bruce Fowles was 80 years old. 

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