Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dr Jim Fowler. A tribute to a friend.

First meeting Dr Jim Fowler. 2002

What defines friendship? Is it a matter of convenience? Is is coincidence? Is it about "good times"? Its none of that for me. A good friend is about a link, a bond that cannot be defined in real terms. Its not about good times, its about being there for a mate, its about sharing and learning. Jim was a mate of mine, in that true Aussie sense.

Dr Fowlers first days work on Yell. Shetland. 2002.

Not always easy, not always "fun". But a mate is there for you, to lend a hand, to offer advice, to make you laugh and to cry. To share a "moment" that will live in you mind and heart forever. Someone who has made a difference to you.

Jim Talking evolution v's creationism with my son Tom. Kinchega national park 2003.

A true friend is gone too soon, (you did not say "goodbye" mate... fuck you...). Jim has gone too soon. I hope, as friends, you will take the time to read this post. Some will know him, others will not. He passed away doing what he loved- on his beloved lake, in a beautiful part of the world.

Jim with Landcruiser. Outback Australia 2004.

I had first contacted Jim by chance. I was looking to use a quote of Sylvie Guillems for a CD I was recording. " If you are afraid of losing something, then you are dependant on it. If you are not then you are free."

Jim, and my daughter with friend. Paris 2005

I had seen a web site called "A tribute to Sylvie Guillem" and assumed that Jim was the webmaster for Sylvies official site. It turned out he was not, and yet, he was gracious in assisting me search for permission. One thing leads to another, and in this I received permission from Sylvie directly to use her quote. Sylvie has become a friend.

Jim and my youngest son Dave in Willandra shearers quarters April 2011

I thanked Jim for his help and said jokingly " If you ever need a field assistant, I enjoy the outdoors mate." Jim advised me, (cautiously), that he had a research going ahead in Shetland and I was welcome to come.
Jim, my daughter and friends with Sylvie Guillem 2005.

I took up his offer. Also, at this time I had an audition with the Royal opera, and thought I could "kill two birds with one stone" and flights were booked for the UK. Weeks later I was diagnosed with my blood disorder and told I would not be travelling. I defied the doctors orders, postponed the treatment and went anyway. I am glad I did.

Jim enjoying a cool VB at Dunnes swamp campsite April 2011

I met Jim and his team in Aberdeen. I was nervous as I did not know what to expect and I am sure he and his team were the same. We hit it off. They loved the same music, and shared the same interests in cricket, rugby and the environment. Most of all we shared the same enthusiasm for ballet and Guillems dance.

Setting up mist nets Jim April 2010

I did not know a lot about birds, I was always too busy to stop and take the time to look. "Arrow mode" Jim called it. But there was one moment in time that changed everything. We were walking across the moors on the island of Yell. Jim stopped me and said- "Look at that!!" He had "boyish enthusiasm" for everything but mostly the birds. I said "What?" "Above us - THERE"!! He said.. All I could see was a speck rising and falling.

Jim Christmas 2007

We sat down and watched this for a few moments as the crisp Shetland winds blew across the island. "That my boy was a lark ascending" Jim said. We trudged silently back to the camp. Jim produced a few cans of Red Hot McEwans, (for my Aussie readers its a beer on par with VB and that's its real name!), and produced a lunch box which had 2 small speakers and a CD player in it. Jim flicked it on and we listened in silence to Vaughn Williams "Lark Ascending". It was then I knew the link...

Jim and Ken about to climb Skiddaw peak April 2010.

Suddenly I knew what was that drove him. The passionate link to the environment, music and dance- its the way a bird moves, like a ballet dancer and its beautiful if you take the time to look. After 10 days I caught the ferry back and was touched, almost in tears at leaving.

This moment in Shetland was the most memorable experience of my life- that moment of friendship. I was the last member of the Rumble club (email me if you want to know what
it is), All of us would break into opera, or "Me and Bobby Mcgee" at the top of our lungs.

Jim still looking for that Albatross April 2010

I took up bird watching from that day on.

My friendship with Jim led me to other great people. Jill and Peter,(Jims sister and brother in law). (Ken and Linda, bird watchers & bird ringers) ,Pam, Big Dave, Worzel and Strudels ( Jims son and daughter in law). Just to name a few.These are more than friends- they
are family.

Jim and Pam 2010

Every year Jim and I would get together- Spain, France, UK, Australia. We would spend a day fell walking, bush walking, bird watching. There was always something new to learn and discuss. Jim spent time with my children and had shown them things-David, (my youngest), bird watches and its a treat to share this with him. He took Jim on a walk and found Pilot bird. A lifer for Jim. He went fishing with Jim as well.
Jim was a mate who would be there for my entire family and friends. His home was our home, and the doors of Maalie court were open to all.

Jim Being "runcible" in search of that beer. Australian desert 2006

Was Jim "perfect"? LOL! Not on your life. We had some heated debates over cars, attitudes and he was without a doubt the most clumsy person I have ever met. Often losing equipment, or tripping over his feet. We drank too much together, often getting into massive debates and forgetting what we had.. All easily forgiven.

Me. bird watching in the Lakes district 2010

What he had was passion. Passion in bucket loads for those he cared about. It was a passion that was infectious. It came at a time in my life when my health had changed for the worst. I "lost" my music, but gained so much more. I would change nothing.

In 2007 he bought my daughter a bunch of flowers for her 16th birthday. Her first

Her flowers. nothing more to say.

Jim spent a great time with us here in Australia. From the outback, to 50 miles out to sea, a beer in a club, to a beer beside a fire in the bush. It was 4 weeks I shall cherish 100%.

A question for you mate:-

Jim, on the pelagic trip, you said to me you were so excited because it would be the last time you would see your favorite bird- Albatross. The other scientists let you ring one as their guest. You were not aware but you beamed as you did it. Such is your boyish enthusiasm. Did you know something was wrong? You touched on your fathers short life, and that the doctor put you on heart tablets...

Mate- If i could say one thing to you is "Thank you" for the gifts of birds,of slowing my pace down ( and not tail gating the car in front), but mostly the friendship. You are part of my family.

What is the measure? When someone has gone too soon.

You have gone too soon and I am grieving.

I am sure one day I will see you again, perhaps as your favorite bird the Albatross. Perhaps you are on the wing already. I will keep my binoculars out and look for you.

A mate, yes.. part of my family.

Goodbye old mate. This poem is for you:- Youth and Love. R.L. Stevenson.

To the heart of youth the world is a highway sign,
Passing forever he fairs and on either hand,
Deep in the gardens golden pavilions hide,
Nestled in orchards bloom,
And far on level land

Call him with lighted lamp in the eventide.

Thick as stars at night when the moon is down,
Pleasures asail him,
He to his nobler fate fairs,
And but waves a hand as he passes on.

Cries but a wayside word to her at the garden gate,
Sings but a boyish stave,
And his face is gone.
Is gone.

"Fowler" means bird catcher and friend. Bowen Mountain April 2011.

I will miss you mate.


  1. A beautiful tribute Simon. I am sure Jim would have some runcible reply in return if he could. Passion and 'boyish enthusiasm' sum so much up about his life- I have learned that much just from knowing him through his blog. What adventures he has crammed into these years since he 'retired'. May we all live our lives with so much passion.

  2. thanks Kiwi. You are right. amazing for real. I am receiving a lot of phone call from a wide variety of people and friends!

  3. Kiwi, you have hit the spot with your comments.

    I can't add anything Simon. You all know how I feel but can't at the moment express it.

    Love to you. xx

  4. Kiwi, you have hit the spot with your comments.

    I can't add anything just now. You know how I feel.

    Love Jill. xx

  5. Maalie is not dead.
    He's an ex-Maalie...


  6. im sorry for your loss simon. i dont have any words but hoping a hug will do

  7. Well done, friend Simon. You have captured and displayed for us the beauty of a man and a friend. Both his boyish charm and his runcible nature will be greatly missed even by those of us who only had the privilege of knowing him through blog and email.

  8. Thank you, Simon, for your tribute to Jim!
    Kiwi, thank you for mentioning runcible, it made me smile. When I happened to read that word for the first time, I went to look it up in the dictionary. I think he is still laughing about that one!
    Love to all of you who miss him,

  9. Simon - this was a beautiful tribute & I learned quite a bit from it. Not just about Dr. Fowler, either. You've inspired me...I'm trying to write something similar & am hitting the wall. And I'm a professional's not easy when it's personal.

    There's much to commend but I love love love that he bought your daughter flowers, her first. This is a huge deal...& he knew it.


  10. Jill, I know just how upset you are. xx

    Anon- I think you are right. I dont think he is a maalie I think he is a Albatross. thank you

    Laura- yes a hug will do . thanks

    Susan thanks for your thoughts you summed him up :o)

    Anna- yes 'Runcible" is a term all my family and friends use now. A great wrod indeed x

    Susan- huge thank you to you too. those flowers meant a great deal and that time in 2007 was very special for my daughter and me.

  11. What a fine tribute of friendship.

    made me think of this Proverb:

    "Friends come and friends go,
    but a true friend sticks by you like family." Pr. 18:24

    It's hard to find words really. It was always an honor to discuss things of life with Mallie. He even visited my blog a few times, and was quite a fine bloke, if I can use that word, with all respect.

    Thank you for allowing me to share. God bless.

  12. Don, many thanks for your words of comfort

  13. I am shattered by news of Jim's death. We had a wonderful time kayaking together on the Norfolk Broads last year and I was hoping we could do it again this year.
    I know he was very fond of you Simon, I know how much he loved his family. I know he lived life to the full. He lived so much more than most people. He was a true free spirit, a real character, and very genuine and kind.
    It was a privilege to have known him, and I thank blogging for that.
    Sadly, it is the second unexpected death for me, another young friend died cave diving in Wales a couple of weeks ago. It's a cruel reminder that we are mere mortals.
    Am I too late for the funeral?

  14. Ellee,

    I will put you in touch with Alun, his son, he is organizing that. There is an autopsy later this week.

    I recall your trip and thank you for your wonderful words

  15. Thanks for such a touching tribute to my Uncle Jim. It's lovely to think of him as an albatros, soaring over the ocean, and this is how I shall think of him for ever more.

  16. Jenny- you are welcome and yes it is how I will remember him also

  17. Wonderfully done. He will be missed.

  18. Visiting from Ms Ellee, on her advice to read your post.

    I know neither of you, but I hope that when I pass, someone captures the beauty of my friendship in such an elegant, honourable and passionate way, as you have done for your friend.

    Truly a beautiful post.

    Sorry for your loss.

  19. That is a beautiful tribute. I respected Dr. Fowler. My deepest condolences to you and his family.

  20. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the very warm tribute to a much-loved uncle. About you wondering if he had a premonition - nothing seemed abnormal when he visited me in Tokyo a week before he died. He once said to me 'I'm not being morbid but realistically speaking, this might be my last trip to Australia,' but when I saw him recently he seemed to be seriously a considering another trip in a few years, 'when I would be about 72 or 73'. Unless he was keeping things to himself, I don't think there were any premonitions.


  21. Jack! thanks for stopping by. Yes he could have been just the typical statistician. I guess.

    Hope you are coping ok mate

  22. Nice one mate, top job. Knowing he had such a great circle of freinds who share in our sadness is a great comfort... I'm sure he would have loved to have a few Red Cans with you over a chat about reincarnation!

    From one runcible fellow to another I thank you for your support.


  23. W- you are my brother mate. so anytime.

  24. I'm shattered and in tears, just reading this sad news now. Jim has meant a lot to me...'boyish enthusiasm' the best description :-)
    I think I need to go outside and see Arcturus now...I'm sure I will hear telling him this story again.
    Viviane x

  25. thanks Viviane and thank you for your email

  26. Fantastic blog - thanks m8. From Jim's youngest son.

  27. Carwyn,

    thanks mate. Look forward to meeting you under better circumstances. mate

  28. What a wonderful tribute, Simon! I especially love that beautiful photo of Jim gazing up into the sky. Worth framing! With those of us grieving who met Jim and knew him online, how much more are those grieving like you dear folks who knew him in person. We will all miss him so much. Our love, thoughts and prayers are with you Simon, and with your family during this hard time.

  29. Ted- thanks for being a brother. 100%

  30. Simon... I have no words.

  31. Oh Simon, this made me cry. Thank you for telling me, I am still rather numb as I type. You know he thought the world of you, don't you? Jim was such loveable character, he's going to be sorely missed. I am so sorry for your pain right now ((x)).

  32. Hi, Simon. Nice tribute to somebody who was, as you say, not just a friend, but more apart of your family too. I've published my eulogy to my father on the NVL blog if you want to take a look. We had the funeral on Thursday (yesterday) and it was a fitting occasion for a great man and a brilliant dad. I guess we're both feeling a little empty and while I know we're thousands of miles apart, let's have a beer on one another for lost friends. All the best, mate, from Matt on NoVisibleLycra.

  33. lShrinky- thanks for stopping by.

    Matt! I sure will mate and you are spot on.

  34. Thanks for providing an opportunity to say something about my friend Jim.

    I attended his funeral service yesterday to say goodbye. Jim had a significant influence on my life, he was my undergrad course leader, he selected me to go on his Shetland expeditions three times, he shaped my academic career, gave me the confidence to apply for my PhD studentship and later he was Best Man at my wedding.

    The words Jim used to describe me on that day apply more to him "He was the most loyal, dependable and trustworthy of friends, on fact I would go anywhere with him". I remember saying to Jim after my last trip with him to Shetland that my expedition days were over. He said to me "Hoverfly, you just have to make these things happen". Those words have stayed with me and I strive to make things happen.

    I was heartbroken to hear the news about Jim. He influenced many people he met and I doubt that we fully appreciate his influence on us.

    Wherever you roam Maalie Rex may you be happy and runcible.
    God bless you,

  35. Hoverfly- bless you mate... you summed him up perfectly.

  36. Thank you for posting your tribute to Jim Fowler. A force of nature that will be much missed.

    Curiously, I too came across Jim on the Internet. Curiously, because rather than living on the other side of the world from Askam, I live on the other side of the Duddon Estuary, at the Hill. There is intervisibility between the two places with a good pair of Binos. When I had bother posting to the new blog site, I suggested semaphore. It was his solstice ascent of Black Combe which I happened upon first; rather like a Baden-Powell advice to young druids … and then we corresponded!

    I never visited Maalie Court but Jim came over to stay with us. I introduced him to one biologist member of my family, only to discover that he knew my sister in law through the World Owl Trust at Muncaster.

    We hatched various plans involving beer, bikes, canoes, druid circles and the outdoors, sadly unimplemented as we were both away so much. As you have shown, Jim would interact with such gusto on so many different levels. I too already miss his observations on all that we will not now discuss. That regret is tempered by fondness. Is there any higher achievement of the runcible?

    Many would think of retirement in our post-industrial part of the world as an exile. Not for Jim, whose verve and enthusiasm made a place a glittering regal Court, illuminated every minute by intellectual, cultural, earthy and worthwhile things.

    I read your account of The Sylph but did not understand it and wonder if you would explain and tell the tale again for the benefit of those who do not know Maalie Court.

    I hope that your trip to the Outback went well for you all and that you are recovering from your treatment.

    With sincere and best wishes,

    Jon Powell

  37. Dear Simon,

    I will look out for your email. It will be good to hear more "Jimorabilia".

    I posted to you on, believe it or not, my dog's email account just because it is Google and easier to connect to a Google blog with. Why my children believe the dog needs email ...

    Kurt Pow, the registered owner of the email account, is something of a rarity here in Cumberland. He is part Kelpie and, as I understand it from the local farmer I acquired him from, that means he is part dingo. Suffice to say that we keep being improved by Aussie influences.

    Just past the Autumnal Equinox, Jim's "tipping point" for the end of summer. Here in Mintcake Land we have just enjoyed a brief Indian Summer, but ... the log burner is fired up now and Kurt is asleep in front of it.