Dudley Fowler, attorney, teacher, sailor, Riverboat Captain, family man and old school gentleman, died Wednesday, May 21. He was 87. Under the gentle auspices of Austin Hospice, Dudley died at home.
To some extent, Dudley belonged to another era. His manners would be deemed courtly, actually rather quaint, in today's world. He was amazingly insistent on a coat and tie, and always kept his shirt tucked in.
Dudley's ability to master the most minute and complex details of every project from courtroom wins, construction of cruiser stalls at the family marina and building more than one sailing dory from minute plans purchased at the Smithsonian. Dudley and physics were best of friends.
Dudley was always up for a challenge. Looking back over the years it can be said that there was nothing that Dudley would not, could not or refused to do, with one exception: He would never consider living any place in the world but Austin. Insanity, he said, was living somewhere else, anywhere else. He would, however, admit to a strong attachment to Maine.
Blessed with the gift of laughter; Dudley liked his family, friends, parties and, boats of most any kind. He was a happy man, his laughter was frequent and genuine. As easy going as he was courteous, Dudley was hard to ignore, impossible to overlook, given his imposing 6 feet 2 inches in height, silver hair, sunny complexion and laughing blue eyes.
Beneath this happy exterior was a shrewd, complex and original mind. Dudley and physics were the closest of friends.
He understood water better than most hydrological engineers. And in case, just in case, you needed to know how the length of a boat's waterline determines the speed of a boat, Dudley was the man to teach you.
Dudley loved life, and singing at any opportunity; he was completely at home with Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, all the old swing melodies; his mother's favorite "Cruising Down the River," as well church hymns; he loved the give and take of a hard courtroom contest, the King James Version of the Bible, and Lake Austin.
But most of all he loved his family, the joyous freedom of growing up on the river, Greenshores on Lake Austin and the two Riverboats.
"There is something about water that just smoothes you out," was his repeated mantra.
Dudley was slow to anger. He was not judgmental; those things he liked and enjoyed, he liked and enjoyed to the fullest measure. There were few things he truly disliked, and those he disliked intensely: dishonesty, slippery ethics, lime jello, mowing grass and getting up too early.
The fog of Alzheimer's, that most cruel of disabilities, diminished Dudley's memory, but failed to destroy his happy spirit, his ready smile, or his capacity for love and generosity. Dudley was never good with names, but he was great at faces until Alzheimer's destroyed facial imprints, and only those closest could be recalled.
Quite simply Dudley was a people person: he enjoyed good company, good conversation and enduring friendships.
Dudley loved women, particularly strong women, and their company. He cited as proof, his grandmother Penn, his mother Mame, and his wife, Carol.
He aggressively hired and supported hiring women during the 21 years he served under multiple Attorneys General of Texas. He stood ready to help his women hires through the vagaries of the courtroom. He was ever proud and quick to boast of the many successes of his "women lawyers."
Marion Dudley Fowler arrived at old St. David's Hospital on Aug. 3, 1927, the oldest of three Fowler boys born to Marion Penn Fowler and Marion West Fowler (Mame and Pappy Fowler). He was named for both parents, but called Dudley to avoid the additional confusion of three Marion's in one household.
Dudley and his brothers Bob and Brad grew up in a family neighborhood, in a subdivision adjacent to UT, created by his maternal grandmother, Ada C. Read Penn. The neighborhood was filled with aunts, uncles and countless first cousins. Summertime's were spent aboard the old Commodore, which anchored near Tom Miller Dam on Lake Austin. Dudley earned pocket money diving into the lake to retrieve lost watches, fountain pens and gold Dunhill cigarette lighters dropped by careless boaters. Part of his earnings were spent on hamburgers at the old Lake Austin Inn (LAI), which he swam across the lake to reach and then swam home.
Texas had a population of 5 million residents, including the 77,000 living in Travis County around the time of Dudley's birth. This was the true time of a "sleepy old Austin,"an era much talked about today and largely unknown by those doing the talking.
This was an Austin where Dudley's milk cow lived in a pasture just north of 32nd Street; a time when men wore hats and tipped them to women; when street cars ran, when the UT Tower and Lamar Boulevard were under construction, a time before the Tom Miller Dam was built, and Lake Austin was still called the Colorado River.
This quieter, simpler and easy going Austin, the strong influence of his closely knit neighborhood, his parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, numerous first cousins created, formed and shaped Dudley and his values.
The other huge influences were water and boats, which together were a big part of the glue that held Dudley together. Seldom was Dudley separated from water, particularly the waters of Lake Austin. He received his Red Cross swimming certificate when he was three years old, taught countless Austin kids to swim at Deep Eddy and swam varsity for UT for three years. Dudley tended to lumber walking on ground, but in the water he was a dolphin.
Boats were a lifelong passion. He built his first boat when he was six. He built his last one when he was 73-- a small wooden boat for a Westminster Presbyterian Sunday School class. Between the first and the last were many, many boats, with emphasis on sailing dories. Dudley got his commercial boat pilot's license before he was old enough to get a driver's license, and captained both the Riverboat Commodore and the Commodore's Pup just short of 55 years.
The entire Fowler and Penn families, uncles, aunts, cousins and a host of friends built the Riverboat Commodore at Greenshores, the family home on Lake Austin. The Commodore was a never-ending fact of life and fascination for Dudley, from its original launch in 1949 until he stepped off the boat as its captain in 2003.
As WWII wound down, Dudley enlisted in the US Navy, where he spent a brief time in the Philippines. His naval career ended abruptly when a crane boom was dropped on him, severely dislocating a hip. This accident sent Dudley stateside for an honorable discharge, which he grabbed, then hotfooted it back to Austin. He never left Austin again. In fact, and to repeat--Dudley considered it folly to think of living elsewhere.
Aided by a strong constitution and even stronger will to recover from the dislocated hip, Dudley enrolled at UT where he obtained a BA and LLB.
Dudley was born into a tribe of lawyers-both maternal and paternal grandfathers were attorneys, as was his father, and both brothers. After a short stint in private practice with Pappy Fowler, Dudley found his true legal vocation: public law. From 1954 to1967, he served as an assistant City Attorney, developing an expertise in the field of eminent domain. Dudley's integrity and negotiating skills were formidable. His operational rule was fairness and rarely was Dudley in trial with property owners.
As a city attorney Dudley acquired substantial parcels of property, including the right of way for Ben White and Ed Bluestein boulevards, the Montopolis interchange, land for expansion of Robert Mueller Airport, Morris Williams's golf course, Northwest Park, numerous streets and finally an abandoned gravel pit now known as Fiesta Gardens.
But his best acquisition for the people of Austin, his gift to future generations, came in the early 1960s when Dudley persuaded, in fact bullied, a most reluctant and penny pinching City Council to fork over $55,000 to purchase a four-acre site and almost a quarter of a block parking area.
This acquisition today is called Walsh Landing. In early days it was derided as the "Buffalo Swamp," which a gloomy director of city public works insisted was a waste of time and money.
The nay-sayers were 100 per cent wrong: Walsh Landing, located at Lake Austin Blvd and Scenic Drive, remains the sole public Lake Austin boat launching ramp without driving to the next closest at Loop 360 some five miles upstream, or at City Park, located nine miles up river from Walsh Lading.
Persuading the City Council to acquire this site for the people of Austin was, Dudley believed, the best single act of his legal career.
Dudley left Austin's City Hall to join the Attorney General's office in the Highway Division in 1967. Dudley continued his eminent domain specialization and when the Texas Torts Claim Act was enacted, he pioneered as head of that division. Several years before retiring in 1988, Dudley was named Chief of the Highway Division, supervising more than 30 attorneys. Dudley had thrived as a litigator; office management was not his long suit. He sorely missed the courtroom practice. His solace was the use of his accumulated knowledge and skill to train a pack of trial lawyers who were legal terrors in the courtroom, and who seldom lost a case.
Winning a lawsuit for Dudley lay in trial preparation. He wrote and wrote again a book for trial lawyers, but could never quite stop revising his own personal litigator's masterpiece. Dudley left the courtroom; he never deserted the law.
Retirement was not a time for laurel resting. With Carol, Dudley plunged fulltime into the operation of the Lake Austin Riverboats, the Riverboat Commodore and the Commodore's Pup, which he and Carol built in 1980. Working together the two boats could accommodate 500 persons with food and drink. Dudley devised and supervised the mechanical operations of the two boats, and Carol ran the rest of the show. Dudley piloted the two boats for literally thousands of miles on Lake Austin. Both boats continue to operate on Lake Austin, but he and Carol said goodbye to them in December 2003.
Both riverboats continue to operate on Lake Austin, owned and operated now by Paul Mahler, their first boat hire in 1980.
Starting in the late 1970s, Dudley and Carol began spending time in Maine, at first two weeks, then extending "cool time" to three months in their location of choice, Camden, Me, a mid-coast village with a deep glacial harbor. The serendipitous breakthrough that provided time away came compliments of a Dell laptop computer, which allowed Carol to continue running the business end of the boats from Maine.
These summers gave Dudley a continuing opportunity to be on the water. He sailed Penobscot Bay at least three times weekly. He loved the big schooners and was frequently asked to "take the boat out"of the harbor for the commercial operators. He was a well-received and well-known face and personality around the Camden waterfront, which he visited daily. Even as his health failed and memory deserted him, Dudley was genuinely welcomed by the Maine schooner captains who provided him the best seat on their boats and kept him under kind and watchful eyes. On one of Dudley's last trips to Camden the captain of his favorite schooner apologized for failing to be on board for Dudley's first sail of the season, explaining he was obligated to attend his own parents' 40th wedding anniversary.
As he traveled across the nation and around the world, Dudley was regularly given the opportunity to pilot a variety of boats: he took the wheel of the original African Queen in Florida, was permitted to work both the Delta Queen and American Queen down the Mississippi, schooners in Maine and Connecticut and New York, power boats in Washington and British Columbia, of a sailboat in the English channel to follow the original course of the America's Cup, bum boats in Hong Kong, harbor cruisers in Australia, tourist boats in Bangkok and Mombassa in Kenya. One final boat stint came in Basel, Switzerland when Dudley conned the operator of a ferry on the Rhone to let him run the show.
Dudley loved each and every minute he was behind the wheel of a boat-any boat. Dudley is survived by his wife of 47 years, Carol McMurtry Fowler; daughter, Beth Fowler and husband, Mike Buls, son, Bill Fowler and wife, Lynn, grandson Will Fowler and wife, Katie, greatgrandson William Dudley Fowler III; granddaughter, Laura Fowler; brothers, Robert Penn Fowler and wife, Laura, Brad Fowler and wife Sally, nieces Lisa Fowler Rodman, Ellie Fowler Reshentnikov and Julia Fowler, nephews E. Bradley Fowler and Edward Fowler, seven great nieces and nephews and cousins still too countless to name.
Visitation will be held Friday from 4 to 6 p. m. at Weed-Corley-Fish, 3125 North Lamar.
Dudley will rest forever above his beloved Lake Austin, with his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other relatives in the Fowler Family Cemetery off Cuernavaca.
Private graveside services for the immediate family will be held at 8:30 a. m. on Saturday, May24. Pallbearers are Paul Mahler, Larry Black, Bill Nalle, Penn Johnson, Edward Fowler and Robert McMurtry Hicks.
A memorial service will follow at 11 a.m. from Dudley's home church, University Presbyterian, 2203 San Antonio. A reception will follow in the church's Fellowship Hall.
Excluding hackberries, Dudley had a passion for trees. He considered his personal planting of some 100-cypress trees along banks and slough at both Greenshores and Ski Shores his second greatest accomplishment and gift to the future. Other than winning most every lawsuit he tried.
Many, if not most of his cypress trees stand in place today, tall, stately and strong, providing both cool shade in the heat of summer and vibrant color come the fall, all the while enriching and enhancing the old Fowler shorelines of Lake Austin.
Dudley asked that memorials be made to the University Presbyterian Church, or to the Arbor Day Foundation, an organization (www. arbor day foundation.com) whose stated goal is "inspiring people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees."
The Fowlers would like to thank the Angel Health Care and the caregivers who helped Dudley for the past three years, in particular Mike Arnold and D. J. Turlich. Special thanks for two additional caregivers who took excellent care, Dolorers Garcia and Yolanda Meza. Further our family will always be indebted to Austin Hospice for its incredible support, care and guidance,signaling the multiple kindnesses of Sara Bradley Carta, Jessica Sather and Jack Harrison.
Arrangements under the auspices of Weed-Corley-Fish.
Obituary and guestbook available online at www.wcfish.com
Published in Austin American-Statesman from May 23 to May 24, 2014