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In Remembrance: William M. Fowler, Jr., MD

Mar 01, 2017

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of our friend and colleague, William M. Fowler, Jr., MD. Dr. Fowler, founding chair of the UC Davis Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), passed away February 23, 2017 at the age of 90 at his home in El Macero, California surrounded by his loving family.

AAPM&R member Craig M. McDonald, MD, professor and chair of the department of PM&R at UC Davis Health System, shares his remembrance:

William FowlerDr. Fowler was on the medical school faculty of the University of California (at UCLA and UC Davis) from 1964 to 1991. He was one of the founding faculty at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and the founding chair of the department of PM&R at UC Davis in 1968. He served as chair of the department of PM&R at UC Davis from 1968 to 1984 and was AAPM&R president from 1980-1981. Dr. Fowler was a pioneer in the rehabilitation management of persons with neuromuscular diseases. He was the founding director of the NIDRR-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) in Neuromuscular Diseases. The UC Davis RRTC in Neuromuscular Diseases has been the longest, continuously-funded RRTC in NIDRR history. 

Subsequent to his retirement, Dr. Fowler served as an active professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Medicine for decades, where he helped recruit Drs. Greg Carter and David Kilmer to join the faculty in 1991, and he helped recruit Drs. Mark Wineinger and Craig McDonald to join the UC Davis faculty in 1992. He is remembered for his great wit, vision, leadership abilities, attention to detail, and great compassion for his patients, students, and junior faculty mentees.

Dr. Fowler is a past recipient of the Krusen Award, AAPM&R's highest honor. He previously authored a number of seminal articles on the natural history of NMDs, the role of creatine kinase for diagnosis and screening in muscular dystrophy, contraction-induced injury and overwork weakness in muscular dystrophy, physical activity and exercise training in neuromuscular diseases, manual muscle testing and quantitative strength testing, progressive resistive exercises, aerobic exercise, quantification of muscle contractility, management of contractures, natural history of scoliosis, cognitive assessment, employment, and quality of life in neuromuscular diseases.

It should be noted that "Bill" Fowler remained actively involved with the department of PM&R until very recently. He was a coauthor of an article with Dr. McDonald recently in 2012 at the age 86, which concerned the role of the physiatrist in the management of neuromuscular diseases. He was a valued source of wisdom and counsel for many individuals across the country and at UC Davis for decades. Dr Fowler has left a lasting legacy by helping to train generations of PM&R and neuromuscular medicine specialists, who have developed a focus on the clinical management and rehabilitation of neuromuscular diseases. In addition, Dr. Fowler deeply impacted the field of PM&R by counseling multiple PM&R department chairs throughout the country to develop improved research capacity of their junior faculty and inspiring PM&R academicians in a variety of rehabilitation subspecialty areas to develop a more scientific and evidence-based approach to their practice. To quote from his AAPM&R Presidential Address on November 3, 1981:

“Research is the single most important factor that will directly determine the acceptance of academic PM&R, and the viability of physiatry.”

We will let the UC Davis community know the family's plans in terms of a service to celebrate his life and remembrances in the coming days. In the meantime, hopefully those whose lives were touched by Dr. Fowler can reflect upon some of the positive memories we have had with him and his many impacts. His life was a life well lived and we are all grateful for having known him.