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Robert Fowler Recognized for 40 Years of Service on Planning Board

Senator Finegold, Rep. Robertson and former board members attended

Last night’s Tewksbury Planning Board meeting marked the last for long-time member Bob Fowler.

Fowler is a retired Tewksbury Fire Department Captain who responded to the 1972 gas explosion. In his 40 years on the Planning Board, he has seen great change in town. He is a model of graciousness and has been a mentor to many elected officials over the years, including current members.

His long service was recognized by proclamations from Sen. Barry Finegold, left, and Rep. David Robertson, far right, above.

Finegold summed up the sentiments of many in the room.

“One of my favorite quotes from JFK, is that things don’t just happen. People make them happen,” said Finegold. “Bob has made things happen. And I think that when you serve a community in any capacity, whether that’s on the fire department, police department, on the planning board, there’s only one thing that you really want to accomplish. And that one thing is, you want to make the community better than when you started. And I can honestly tell you that this guy has made this town better.

“And not only has he made it better, but he’s done it with such class, such dignity. He is the definition of a true gentleman. So thank you for being who you are. And thank you for making the town of Tewksbury so much better.”

Former Planning Board members including Jim Plunkett, Richard Krause and Nancy Reed shared memories, and current member Jim Duffy reminded the audience that Fowler also chaired the town’s 9/11 Commission.

While accepting an award from the current board, Fowler gave some advice in his usual concise style.

“Do the right thing and get the job done,” he said. “I’ve lived by that.”

The letter, below, was read by Planning Board chair Stephen Johnson:

The March 27th Planning Board meeting marks the end of an era in public service in the Town of Tewksbury. Robert Fowler will be concluding a 40-year tenure as a valued member of the Planning Board. I ask that the residents of Tewksbury take the opportunity to recognize an example of dedication and devotion to public service that we will likely not witness again.

Mr. Fowler’s service on the Planning Board in and of itself would be impressive enough as a monument to civic involvement and responsibility, things that have diminished and eroded in recent years. But, when you consider Mr. Fowler’s 40 years on the Planning Board, another 30 years plus as a member of the Tewksbury Fire Department, then sprinkle another decade plus as a Reserve Officer for the Tewksbury Police Department on top, you have over 80 years of dedicated public service to the Town and the residents of Tewksbury in one capacity or another. That is enough civic duty to cover 10 people. Let alone one. 

Mr. Fowler represents the best example of something we can all aspire to, which is putting others ahead of just our own self-interest and striving to give something back to your community. This is a disappearing art, and someone willing to do it for parts of six decades is the rarest of exceptions, rather than the rule. Mr. Fowler should be recognized for all he has done on the Planning Board and his stewardship through the many changes and difficult issues faced by the Board and the Town over his 40-year tenure.

Mr. Fowler considered stepping away prior to his most recent term, but he wanted to help see the new Zoning Bylaw through its development and adoption before departing. After 35 years on the Planning Board, no one would have begrudged Mr. Fowler if he decided to call it a career and not sought another term. He could have left the heavy lifting of getting a new Zoning Bylaw passed to someone else. Instead, Mr. Fowler decided to see the process through to final adoption because he understood how important it was for the Town’s future. Of course, little did he know that that process would take nearly the entirety of his last five-year term to see to its fruition: Perhaps we all conspired to make sure it took that long to make sure Mr. Fowler stuck around.

The Planning Board will feel the loss of Mr. Fowler’s vast experience and immeasurable institutional knowledge upon his departure, as I know I will. But even more so, it will be his leadership, mentorship, and friendship as a fellow Board member that I will miss above all.

Mr. Fowler’s seat may be filled, but his shoes never can be. 

Although it is unlikely that anyone will challenge Mr. Fowler’s extraordinary example of longevity in public service, I think we can each attempt to honor his example and his service by endeavoring to embrace one of his favorite sayings: “We can disagree, without being disagreeable.” It seems like a simple creed, but it is lost on so many in today’s public discourse.

I believe that I speak for all residents when I say that we can all agree we owe Mr. Fowler a debt of appreciation and gratitude for all his time and efforts on behalf of the Town and its residents. Please join me in wishing Mr. Fowler the very best as he steps back and steps away from the Planning Board and his remarkable career in public service. On behalf of all those who have served on the Planning Board (past and present): Thank You Bob! 

Stephen Johnson
Chairman, Tewksbury Planning Board  

Watch for a full writeup of last night’s meeting shortly.

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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