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Legendary Golf Coach Fowler Dies At 78

Feb 8, 2003

Courtesy of the Boulder Daily Camera
By Gary Baines, Camera Sports Editor

BOULDER-- Les Fowler, the longest-serving state legislator in Boulder County history and a man just as well known for his golfing ability and contributions to the game, died Saturday at his Boulder home. He was 78.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, in the First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15th St., Boulder.

Since last summer, Fowler had been battling colon cancer, which had since metastasized to a spot in his brain.

Fowler was the volunteer head coach for the University of Colorado golf team for more than 29 years, and his top player during that time was Hale Irwin, who won an NCAA title at CU and went on to capture three U.S. Opens. Irwin was one of the last people to visit with Fowler, coming to his Boulder Country Club home on Friday.

"I was so pleased about that," said Jane Fowler, Les' wife.

Les Fowler held many titles in his life. He was a Boulder city councilman (1956-62), a state representative (1966-68), a state senator (1968-88), CU golf coach (1947-1976), district manager for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and one of the most successful amateur golfers in state history.

In his two decades as a Republican state senator, Fowler was known for his steadfast support of increasing funding for education, and for being one of the primary lawmakers behind the establishment of Eldorado Canyon State Park and the Regional Transportation District. And Fowler held considerable power, being the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

"I was fascinated with the legislative process," Fowler said in an interview three weeks ago. Gwenne Hume, who served for six years as a Republican state legislator from Boulder after being elected in 1976, remembers Fowler's "quiet effectiveness. He seemed to glide through even the worst of difficulties in that environment."

And that also held true for Fowler in most areas of his life.

"He was a wonderful man, a good friend and a great competitor," said John Hamer, who played golf under Fowler at CU and, like his former coach, is a member of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.

Fowler never received any pay for all his years coaching at CU, and received only a nominal amount for his years as a public servant.

"The university lost a mighty warrior and servant," said current CU golf coach Mark Simpson, who also played golf under Fowler before taking the reins of the CU program from Fowler in '77. "His service to the university was unparalleled in all my years here. He was the consummate gentleman and a true and loyal friend. I'm deeply saddened."

"The one thing that I remember more than anything else 25 years ago (when he first took over)that Les had done for the golf program was having an established competitive national schedule that I was able to step right into with the team," Simpson said. "He never let it dwindle; he always wanted CU playing in the best against the best. A schedule like that can take several years to build up. When I came on, the first few years we had a very good team with Steve (Jones), Terry (Kahl) and Rick (Cramer), and without that kind schedule, I know it would have hurt those guys' careers.

"Anyone associated with Colorado golf has to thank Les for the 30 years that he sustained the program and kept it going obviously doing a great job with all the things he had in the fire," Simpson added. "Personally, Les was my mentor, my role model. I've certainly made an effort to emulate and promote my coaching as an example of Les' in a lot of areas.

Fowler's CU golf teams won three conference titles and produced three individual conference champions.

And Fowler was an outstanding golfer in his own right. He was the only person in state history to have won all four of these major amateur championships in Colorado: the State Stroke Play (three times), the State Match Play (once), the State Senior Stroke Play (four times) and the State Senior Match Play (three times).

And, in a game that takes great pride in players being gentlemen, win or lose, Fowler lived up to the ideal.

As Irwin said last month, "Les has always been held in the highest esteem. There wasn't a time when he didn't try to do the right thing."

Fowler lived in Boulder since shortly after World War II, attending the CU School of Business on the G.I. Bill and playing golf for the Buffs, eventually graduating to the status of player/coach.

He was a district manager for Northwestern Insurance for 38 years and got involved in politics at the prompting of Don Brotzman, who served in both the state legislature and the U.S. Congress.

"(Fowler) was so revered and respected," said Sandy Hume, the former Boulder County treasurer and county commissioner who did an internship under Fowler in 1973 and later worked on the senator's campaign. "He clearly epitomized the era of civility in the state senate. When there was complex legislation to be passed, he made sure everyone was included in the process.

"We're all heartsick at his passing. He had an extraordinary commitment to his family and to serving Boulder County."

In addition to his work on the city council and at the state legistlature, Fowler held numerous voluntary roles that served both the community and the game of golf.

"He's a contributor," former CU golfer and current Senior PGA Tour player Dale Douglass said last month. "He contributed to the state and the game of golf. He's very giving." The CU golf team plans later this year to begin a campaign to endow a scholarship in Fowler's name.