Former Rep. Tillie Fowler, 62, Dies

Posted March 2, 2005 at 6:34pm

Former Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.) died Wednesday in her hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. She was 62.

Fowler, who was a partner at the law firm Holland and Knight at the time of her death, suffered a brain hemorrhage Feb. 28 and was treated at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, where she later died surrounded by her husband, Buck Fowler, and their two daughters.

Congressional and K Street colleagues remembered Fowler as a tenacious politician who brought a Southern-hospitality charm to her work in Congress and to her lobbying career.

Fowler was the highest ranking woman in Congress when she retired at the end of the 106th Congress.

Tom Alexander, her former press secretary on Capitol Hill, said in a statement on behalf of Fowler’s family, “The tremendous outpouring of support gives us great solace. As a mother and wife, she was very special to us and it is comforting to know how special she was to so many other people across our nation.”

Current and former colleagues remembered Fowler as an unassuming but effective advocate for a strong national defense and a supporter of the conservative line on such issues as taxes, affirmative action and the environment.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) came to Congress in 1993, the same year as Fowler. In an interview, Pryce said Fowler and she became immediate friends. Later, Fowler helped Pryce through the death of her daughter.

“She visited us when my daughter was out in the hospital,” Pryce said. “The experience with my little girl was very sudden too, and Tillie was just always there for everyone. She had an uncommon ability to be a patriotic Republican and still have many friends on the other side of the aisle.”

Members of Congress also publicly hailed her in dozens of written statements.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) said in a statement, “Today we mourn the loss of one of the brightest stars the Sunshine State ever had to offer.”

And House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) issued a statement calling Fowler “a great friend and one of the most effective Members of Congress. … As one of the Deputy Whips she could always persuade the most challenging members [and] she could always be counted on to stand up for those who were serving or had served in the armed forces.”

Fowler served four terms, sticking to her self-imposed “eight is enough” pledge.

During those eight years, she scored a seat on the House Armed Services Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She also worked her way up the leadership ladder, becoming Deputy Whip in the 105th Congress and vice chairwoman of the GOP Conference in the 106th Congress.

Years before her election to Congress, Fowler served as an aide to then-Rep. Robert Stephens (D-Ga.). She later worked as a counsel in the Office of Consumer Affairs during the Nixon administration.

After that, she and her husband moved to Jacksonville, a city with a heavy military presence. There she raised two daughters, Tillie Anne and Elizabeth, whose godmother and namesake is Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

Fowler served as president of the Junior League of Jacksonville and returned to politics in 1985 as a city councilwoman.

Her assignments in Congress and her other experiences in Washington, D.C., served her well when she joined the private sector at Holland and Knight in 2001.

“When Tillie set out to do something, she was very determined, but always had a smile on her face,” said Richard Gold, a Holland and Knight partner who runs the firm’s lobbying shop. “She was really a great teacher. A large part of her private-sector legacy is that she made us proud to come to work.”

Former Rep. Gerry Sikorski (Minn.), another Holland and Knight partner and self-described liberal Democrat who helped recruit Fowler, called her “a lovely, absolutely wonderful lady who looked you in the eye and made her point with a gentle steely firmness.”

Fowler’s recent clients included the PGA Tour and the city of Jacksonville, which was seeking to keep local military installations safe from the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure commission.

Fowler received the Department of Defense’s Medal for Distinguished Public Service and the Navy’s Public Service Award.

In 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appointed Fowler to the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, and she became chairman in May 2003. Rumsfeld also tapped Fowler to look into the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Born in 1942 in Milledgeville, Ga., Fowler got a taste for politics at home. Her father, Culver Kidd, was a Democratic state legislator in Georgia. She received a bachelor’s and law degree from Emory University.

Public services will be held at 1 p.m. March 4 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 4129 Oxford Ave. in Jacksonville. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Tillie K. Fowler NROTC Scholarship Fund at Jacksonville University.