"We were awaked by a most dreadful earthquake." Those words written by Sarah Phillips on April 18, 1906, were lost to the world until Dorothy Fowler brought them back to life one hundred years later with the publication of A Most Dreadful Earthquake. Researcher, editor, author and long-time volunteer and friend of CGS, Dorothy Helen Fowler died on February 26, 2009 in San Francisco. Dorothy's entire life was a testament to the art of writing and it is an honor to write this tribute to her.
A native of Clawson, Michigan, Dorothy came west to California with her family when she was seven, before settling in Grants Pass, Oregon. She obtained a B.A. in English from the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Dorothy's first taste of the publishing world came early when she served as editor of her high school year book. After college she moved to New York City and held a number of jobs in advertising, publishing and editing before returning to California. Dorothy once labeled herself a "job hopper" but her work was always about the written word. Her thirty year career with the State of California was spent working in research and report writing for the Departments of Public Health, Employment and Industrial Relations.
Dorothy joined CGS in 1984 and for over twenty years she was one of the reliable "Thursday group" who came in weekly to volunteer. Dorothy served on both the Library Committee and the Membership Committee and she was involved in various indexing projects. For the society centennial in 1998, Dorothy combed the archives and wrote a history entitled The California Genealogical Society's Library – A Century of Growth.
1998 was the same year that the long-lost packet of forty letters was discovered in a misplaced box after the society's move to a new location. Like many genealogists, Dorothy enjoyed mysteries so a small preservation project evolved into a full-blown research endeavor which ultimately resulted in the publication of A Most Dreadful Earthquake: A First Hand Account of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire – with Glimpses into the Lives of the Phillips-Jones Letter Writers.
Shirley Thomson worked closely with Dorothy on AMDE. She shared these thoughts:
In the process of preparing the manuscript of A MOST DREADFUL EARTHQUAKE for its eventual form as a book, I worked with Dorothy over some months in 2005. As an author, she was a joy: thorough, careful, documentation-perfect, attitude flexible, always willing to listen to suggestions, ready to go the extra mile to provide whatever was needed. She told me very clearly that her ego was not embedded in the words on her page; she could deal with—even appreciate—editorial help. Wow! That’s a rare and much-appreciated talent. She was ever generous to CGS, a kind and thoughtful friend.
Members and friends of Dorothy will gather at the California Genealogical Society on Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. to remember Dorothy and to meet her brother, Walter Henry Fowler, his wife Etta Mae and their daughter Lisa.
Photographs courtesy of Lisa Fowler.