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COWLES, John Caldwell An imaginative and creative Renaissance Man, died November 4, 2016, just 4 days shy of his 93rd birthday. Jack was born and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, from a long line of Yankee teachers and preachers. He was the youngest of three sons of Henry Trask Cowles and Emma Jones Cowles. He loved horticulture and learned the art of plant breeding when he was a teenager. He came to Stoneham, MA, to complete high school. After high school he was an apprentice at G.E. in Lynn, then he was drafted in 1943. At the military center where draftees were processed, an officer at a table asked Jack, "Army or Navy? Navy?" and marked down "Navy" before Jack could open his mouth. Jack served in the Seabees (Construction Battalion) from 1943 to 1946. In Hawaii, he guarded ammo dumps and supervised the turning of cases of dynamite so they would not become unstable. He stashed a supply of delicious green coconuts (memories of Puerto Rico!) under his bunk during a stop in the Marshall Islands. They went as far as Guam, and prepared for the invasion of Japan. For fun, Jack bummed a ride on a plane one afternoon. The pilots kept quiet that their assignment was to go high up, kill the engines, and then drop nose-first, fast enough so they could jump-start the engines by "feathering the propellers" - using the spin of the propellers - to restart the engines. Jack, in the back of the plane, had no idea what happened when the engines stopped with a bang. He clearly remembered the silence and falling sensation, and the relief when the engines roared back to life! He competed with other Seabees in Guam to see who could build pallets the fastest in preparation for the invasion of Japan. Some could drive a nail home with one blow. They were utterly surprised when word came down that the war was over. Jack used the GI Bill to go to college at Mass State/University of Massachusetts in Amherst. There, he was attracted to a girl who beat him at ping-pong. Eveleth Cooper also had a passion for horticulture. They discovered they both had the same desire to explore the Amazon basin to hunt for orchids. They were married on Flag Day in 1947, and shared 69 happy years. They never did go to the tropics to explore, but instead raised five children. Jack was an estate manager who maintained the grounds and repaired equipment at the Dexter Estate in Sandwich and the Hunnewell Estate in Wellesley. He also did plant breeding when he had the opportunity. While at the Dexter Estate (later Heritage Plantation, now Heritage Gardens), he added more hybrid rhododendrons to a collection started by Charles Dexter and Tony Consolini. At the Hunnewell Estate's English Garden he created a group of hybrid seedling rhododendrons, Yaku x Venator, in which he owned neither parent plant. "I'm the biggest bumblebee in Wellesley," was how he introduced himself to some fellow plantsmen.After retiring in 1995, Jack and Evvie moved to a house in Stow which they had restored. They filled the yard with daylilies so they could make more crosses with plants with a shorter time frame between seedling and mature blooms. Plants were not his sole interest; everything in the natural world was interesting. He learned about the constellations and astronomy from his grandmother, Dr. Sigourney Trask Cowles. He loved watching meteor showers, and always hoped to find a meteorite in a gutter. He had an interest in weather prediction, and took an Armed Forces Institute course on meteorology. Sometimes Jack disagreed with the TV weatherman's predictions back in the days before computer models helped with accuracy. He often took the family on trips to see the mineral collection at the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge. He took up camera repair as a hobby. He restored an old Louis XIII chair he salvaged from the Take-It-or-Leave-It section of the Wellesley Dump, not knowing exactly what the beat-up old thing was, but recognizing it was different. His "bump of curiosity" led him to discover its style and age; and he carefully fixed it and selected the materials to bring it back to life. He loved tinkering with old car engines. Eveleth was tolerant of having a Triumph engine being worked on on top of the roll-around dishwasher in the kitchen during winter months. He encouraged Eveleth to try her hand at doing a watercolor of an orchid from the greenhouses; she found she could paint, and did almost 100 watercolors in less than 10 years. Eveleth said that Jack was a "great instigator," introducing her to painting and to Siamese cats. Eveleth raised Siamese for about 40 years and wrote a definitive book detailing the care and handling of studs, breeding queens, and kittens. Jack's interest in others and his easygoing way often had a good influence, helping people decide the direction of their lives. Jack had major surgery in Sept. 2015 for pancreatic cancer, and enjoyed the gift of an extra year of life with his family. He returned to his favorite activities, such as gardening and splitting and stacking two cords of firewood. When the cancer returned this September, he was determined to die at home, without undergoing chemotherapy. Jack was predeceased by his brothers and by his two older children, Laura and Edward. He is survived by his wife, Eveleth Cooper Cowles; daughter Susan N. Cowles of Stow with Raymond A. Merkh, Jr.; daughter Jillian H. Cowles with Bill Savary of Vail, AZ; son Richard S. Cowles with his wife, Liz, of East Windsor, CT; grandson Cyrille Early and his wife, Wendy; granddaughter Erin Niehoff and her husband, Matt; granddaughter Alyssa Blachez and her husband, Paul; great-grandsons Evan and Jacob Early; and various nieces and nephews. A celebration of Jack Cowles's life is being planned for the upcoming spring, when his plants are blooming. Memorial page www.actonfuneralhome.com
Published in The Boston Globe on Nov. 13, 2016
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