Fowler—James Mark Fowler, 89, on May 8, 2019, in Rowayton, Conn. Jim was born on April 9, 1930, in Albany, Ga., the fourth of five children of Ada and Earl Fowler, both Quakers. He grew up on a 680-acre farm called Mud Creek Plantation, where all kinds of wildlife thrived, and even as a small child, he loved to study, catch, and even sell to a herpetarium (at one dollar each) snakes. He attended Westtown School near West Chester, Pa., and graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., with a degree in zoology and geology. At 6 feet, 6 inches, he also played baseball, but turned down an offer to play professionally.
Instead, he focused on his interest in animals and did the first studies of the harpy eagle (world’s largest bird of prey) in Guyana, which led him to meet Marlin Perkins, who was making the pilot for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV show, and who asked Jim to bring his harpy onto the set. He joined that program and was co-host from 1963 through 1986, when Perkins died. Jim hosted until 1988, when he became the wildlife correspondent for the Today show. Appearing on many TV shows, he was on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson about 50 times, always bringing an animal with him and a message on the environment. In later years, he continued to be a spokesperson for the natural world and gave a TEDx talk on the tipping point of nature. He loved spending time on his family farm in Georgia, which he had turned into a wildlife preserve. He also designed and constructed several wildlife parks across the country, and just a few years ago, New Canaan Land Trust acquired his family home in New Canaan, Conn., and connected it to a 50-acre nature preserve with hiking trails and a pond for all to enjoy. He received many awards, like the prestigious Explorers Club Medal, the Lindbergh Award for significant contributions toward the balance of nature and technology, and an honorary doctorate from Earlham College.
He and his wife, Betsey, attended Wilton (Conn.) Meeting for more than 30 years, his children were a vibrant part of its First-day school, and his grandchildren attend Connecticut Friends School. He gave many benefit shows for the meeting and the school, bringing pythons, eagles, and other exotic animals for the children (and adults) to enjoy. Wilton Meeting has in its archives a letter from over 30 years ago thanking Jim for the pleasure of dining with a 12-foot python at quarterly meeting! He was quite the storyteller, enlivening hospitality hour with tales from his adventures. But it is his deep concern for the environment and sustainable resources that Friends will remember, as will the millions who were inspired by his work in television.
Jim is survived by his wife, Betsey Burhans Fowler; two children, J. Mark Fowler and Carrie Fowler Stowe; and two grandchildren.