Pomona Remembers Biology Professor Gene Fowler

Gene Fowler, a biology professor at Pomona College and one of the pioneers in establishing Pomona's environmental analysis program, died Nov. 1 at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center after suffering an illness.

Fowler, known as Doc Fowler to his colleagues and friends, joined the Pomona faculty in 1993 and taught many courses in biology. Conservation Biology and Comparative Endocrinology were among his most popular courses. 

Fowler had a half-position at Pomona and taught courses at other schools as well. 

Known for his commitment to the EA program at Pomona, he was instrumental in the establishment of the EA study abroad program at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Richard Hazlett, a geology professor at Pomona, worked closely with Fowler in the advancement of the EA program. 

“Gene was certainly a human being of great conviction when it came to conservation and the need to educate people about the natural world,” Hazlett said. “I think he felt most alive and readily interested studying the environment, whether that took the form of monitoring Argentinian penguins or leading students on his spectacular trips to explore pollution issues, migratory birds and natural history around the Salton Sea.” 

Fowler's research involved the behavioral endocrinology of birds and mammals. He studied the influence of sex and stress hormones on reproductive behavior and success. For his dissertation, he studied the behavior of Magellanic penguins and their reproductive and stress endocrinology.

From 1995 to 2001, he was the director of the Robert J. Bernard Biological Field Station of the Claremont Colleges. After 2001, he remained involved in the Bernard Field Station and was the chair of the advisory committee. 

Biology professor Nina Karnovsky met Fowler in the early 1990s because of their similar research interest in penguins. 

“He had such incredible knowledge of so many topics. You could ask him a question about anything, and he would have the answer,” Karnovsky said. “He knew so much about the local ecology around here. It was incredibly impressive that he could recall all of this information.” 

Fowler loved baseball and was a fervent San Francisco Giants fan. Karnovsky said that the baseball games she attended with Fowler were among her favorite memories. 

Fowler and biology professor Clarissa Cheney would organize summer student trips to Rancho Cucamonga Quakes games. An avid birder, Fowler would always seize the opportunity to bird-watch. 

“He would bring his binoculars to the games because there were hawks who lived in the lights at the Quakes stadium,” Cheney said.  

An accomplished musician, Fowler played the guitar and composed his own music. He played in a band with Jennifer Perry, a former professor in Pomona's Anthropology Department, and her husband. 

Biology professor Jonathan Wright spoke highly of Fowler's character.

“He was a loyal colleague, a caring person and very upfront, honest and humble,” Wright said. “He was a person who touched the lives of a lot of people and had a lot of passion for the outdoors, conservation and sustainability.”

Fowler grew up in Davis, Calif. His father was a mammal veterinarian. He received his bachelor's degree from California State University, Sacramento, and completed his master's at the University of California, Berkeley, in Wildland Resource Science. He received a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Washington. 

“Like everyone else, I never imagined that Gene would pass so soon, so young," Hazlett said. "I had hoped that he might team up with me in writing an environmental science textbook for Oxford University Press, still in the planning stages. I’d hoped he might, in fact, one day co-teach Food, Land and the Environment at our organic farm with me. There is no arguing the hand of fate, however. His life and promise simply meant much for many of his colleagues, and I hope that he recognized this to the end.”

Fowler is survived by his wife, Cynthia Peters; his son, Zachary; his parents, Murray and Audrey Fowler; his siblings, Janet Akema, Linda Allen, Tricia Craft and Alan Fowler; and their families. 

Fowler will be honored at a “celebration of life” in Bridges Hall of Music Nov. 24 at 2 p.m., followed by a reception. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations in Fowler's memory go to either the Claremont Educational Foundation or the California State Parks Foundation.