He had a love of theater and, above all, a love of people. John Fowler, 62, died May 29 of liver disease.
Born and raised in Painesville, Ohio, Fowler attended Miami University on the other side of the state. While he earned a teaching degree, friends say the profession did not agree with him and he did not teach for long.
It was while living in Boston that Fowler first worked for a movie theater, a profession that fit the film lover perfectly. After relocating to Michigan, Fowler worked at, and managed, such theaters as the Somerset Cinema in Troy and Showcase Cinemas in Sterling Heights.
“He could see things I never saw while watching the same movie,” said Doug Smart, who enjoyed a 25-year friendship with Fowler. Betty Gunn, another friend and Fowler’s roommate in later years, said the same. “It was an in-depth discussion every time he went to see a simple little movie,” she said. For a time, Fowler even wrote film reviews for Between The Lines.
In addition to films, Fowler also had a love for live theater. He worked at the University Quick Copy Center from 2002-2007, which is located just a block away from Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theater. The job afforded him the opportunity to befriend many of the school’s theater students and instructors.
“He was very close with most of the theater people at Wayne,” said Joel Pumphrey, the store’s owner. “Customers loved him because he would talk to anybody.”
At times, Fowler even took to the stage himself. Jay Kaplan first met Fowler when the latter auditioned for a part in The Laramie Project, which Kaplan was directing for Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theater in Royal Oak.
“John very much wanted to be a part of this production and he later shared with me that this play had particular meaning for him because he had been a victim of a gay bashing in the 1970s,” Kaplan recalled. “He gave a wonderful performance. At the end of his monologue, John’s character thanked Matthew Shepard for his ability to move and motivate others – and John always had a catch in his voice, a little sob that was obviously genuine and brought tears to audience.”
For a time, Fowler moved back to Ohio to take care of his dying father. Fowler would also lose his partner of 12 years, Robert Hudson, to Parkinson’s Disease and acted for a time as his caregiver.
“It just made John so happy to be loved,” remembered Smart.
His empathy and compassion made him an exceptionally compassionate caregiver and companion. It was while Fowler was taking care of Betty Gunn’s husband that the two became close.
“He was just a wonderful person,” Gunn said. “He never, ever said a bad word about anybody. He just loved people.”
Friends were fiercely important to Fowler. He went out of his way to help those he loved celebrate their birthdays and each year put together special packages for them, with their favorite films and trinkets and his homemade fudge.
Mark Bidwell, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, said it’s Fowler’s Christmas packages that were most special. “It was not because of the gifts inside them, but because of all the time he spent in thought and preparation. … It wasn’t a rushed job. It was with all of his heart and soul that he put together a collage of gifts for one to share.”
Fowler’s passion for life never faltered, not even through his ordeal with liver disease. Eventually, he had to have a liver transplant and his body, ultimately, rejected the new organ.
“John was the most optimistic person I have ever met,” said Smart. “He believed that things would always work out for the best.”
Kaplan saw much of the same.
“Despite all John’s health issues, I never saw him lose his enthusiasm for the world around him,” he said. “I had a particularly nice visit with him in the hospital a couple of weeks before he passed away. Despite the fact that he knew that he didn’t have much time left to live, he was upbeat and amazingly philosophical. He said to me, ‘we waste a lot of time worrying and stressing about unimportant things.’ He said it was important to appreciate each day that we have.”