, Salem, MA

October 24, 2012

Column: Remembering Sandy

Robert Brown
The Salem News

---- — Editor’s note: Blair Bailey, a communications major at Salem State University, is the first recipient of the Sandra B. Fowler Memorial Scholarship. The ceremony was held Oct. 17. The scholarship honors professor Sandra Fowler, who died of breast cancer in 2008. Robert Brown, a communications professor at Salem State and colleague of Fowler’s, shares his memories of her below.

Sandy Fowler was my friend from the day I showed up at the state college in 1995. You knew she was somewhere in the vicinity by the signature music of her Bronx accent.

“What accent?” she protested. “You think I have an accent?”

She called her students “cute people.” But she called everyone “cute people” because to her that’s what we were.

Her students loved her. It so happened she was a brilliant teacher, for a few years at Brookline High, then at Salem State.

When I arrived at Salem State, the communications department — PR, advertising and journalism — was just a part of the English department. But by the end of the ’90s, it had more majors than the English department.

Which is when Sandy made her mark. Let’s become our own department, she decided. It turned out to be no easy task. The English department had no intention of losing its crown jewel in an era that was rapidly becoming defined by digital communications. But after a few pitched battles and even some tears, in meetings led by Sandy Fowler, communications was anointed as the college’s newest academic department. Sandy was the new department’s first chairperson.

That was in fall 2001. By 2006, Sandy was losing her battle with breast cancer.

At the end of the fall 2006 semester, I went to see her at MGH. Shortly after that, she was moved home. The night before she died, she watched a movie on TV with her husband, Tom, and her grown children, Devon and Darcy, an actress and playwright. She had named the kids for characters in a Jane Austen novel.

The movie was funny. Sandy ate supper and finished it off with a bowl of ice cream and laughed.

She died hours later.

The next day, I went to the Fowlers’ house in Marblehead. We decided that she should be honored with a scholarship in her name. We were told we had to raise $25,000 to endow a scholarship. For the next four years, the communications department raised the money, much of it by staging an annual Salem Sings. Faculty, staff and administrators soloed, sang duets, and sold tickets and did publicity. Contributions came from Sandy’s many former students, friends and admirers.

At her funeral service, I told story about the time I started a small conflagration in the microwave by attempting to heat up a chicken leg for an hour instead of a minute. Sandy loved that story and told it incessantly. In that church that day, the cute people laughed and cried.

Tonight, a worthy communications major will receive the first Sandra B. Fowler Scholarship. I don’t know the identity of that recipient. But one thing’s for sure: It’s bound to be a cute person.