IDA Loses a Treasured Friend: Remembering Rosemary F. Bowler

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Examiner, Volume 8, Issue 3
October 2019

By Carolyn D. Cowen


I compose this introduction for Rosemary F. Bowler’s obituary with a heavy heart, but also with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. In this vein, two quotes run through my mind.

  • “I can’t forgive my friends for dying; I don’t find these vanishing acts of theirs at all amusing.” — Logan Pearsall Smith 
  • “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” — Sir Terry Pratchett

Those who knew Ro will recognize her particular brand of dry Yankee wit in the first quote. It’s the sort of thing she would say. In fact, it resonates so strongly, I’m willing to bet she actually did. Ro lived a full and long life, and she suffered as many of her dearest friends passed away. But, to be crystal clear about this, Ro, we are not at all amused by your own vanishing act.

Of course the second quote reminds me that Ro still is very much alive—not only in the hearts of all who loved her, but also in the work of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Back when we were called the Orton Dyslexia Society (ODS), Ro served as Managing Editor of Annals of Dyslexia (from 1983 to1988) and then as Executive Director (from 1988 to 1993).

During that time, Ro helped lay the cornerstones of much of the work we do today as IDA—particularly our initiatives to advance science-based reading instruction and our efforts to make complex content understandable, compelling, and actionable. Ro was a fierce champion of clear, straightforward writing and never hesitated to tilt at the windmills of pretentious prose and obfuscating, technical jargon. She also believed strongly in forging alliances and partnerships in the campaign to bring effective reading instruction to every child in every classroom across the nation and around the world.

But as passionate as Ro was about her work for IDA, which she sometimes called “the funny little club,” she also was just plain fun. She was a world traveler, a wine aficionado, a lover of detective stories and Hitchcock movies, an author, an educator, an esteemed and beloved member of the Boca Grande community, a cherished friend to countless people, and ever so much more! See her obituary here, for just a taste of the extraordinary life of Rosemary F. Bowler, Ph.D.

Marcia Henry (president of IDA from 1992 to 1999) said, “I loved Ro’s honesty and directness, always with a little gleam in her eyes and an enchanting smile to soften her remarks.” 

Wilson Anderson (president of IDA from 1988 to 1992) said, “She brought stability to the office and the organization. She worked very hard to make us look good.”

As I write this today, it happens to be Ro’s birthday. She was born August 24, 1929 and would have been 90-years-old today. She probably would have made light of this with one of her favorite lines about being born “way back before the earth cooled.” But for me, this coincidence—writing the introduction to her obituary on her birthday—is a gentle reminder from The Universe that as heartbroken as I am over the vanishing act of my dear friend and mentor, she lives on through the many wonderful ripples she caused in the world. For that, I’m grateful.

As we celebrate IDA’s 70th birthday this year, we are celebrating the foundational work of people like Rosemary Bowler. Her spirit carries on in our work.

Memorial services are planned on Cape Cod on Friday, November 29, 2019 and in Boca Grande on Thursday, January 9, 2020.

For further information about these services, please contact Jessica Fone at

Carolyn D. Cowen, Ed.M., serves on the Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association and as Executive Editor-in-Chief of IDA’s Editorial Boards. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Research Institute for Learning and Development. Carolyn has worn many hats in her 40 years of working in education and nonprofits; currently she is a communications strategist. Carolyn is especially interested in harnessing the power of digital media to make complex information accessible and actionable for the spectrum of decision-makers working for change on behalf of those with dyslexia and learning differences. Follow her on Twitter @cdcowen.


Copyright © 2019 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Opinions expressed in The Examiner and/or via links do not necessarily reflect those of IDA.