Mon 23 May 2011
Well over 100 people showed up Sunday at a memorial for Jonathan Rowe of Point Reyes Station, who co-founded the West Marin Commons project. Mr. Rowe died unexpectedly March 20 of a rare streptococcal sepsis infection at the age of 65. He leaves a wife, Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe, and son, Joshua Espulgar-Rowe.
Jonathan Rowe could often be seen writing on an open-air table next to the coffee bar at Toby’s Feed Barn.
He had been a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly and YES! magazines and had been a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Rowe also contributed articles to Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, Readers Digest, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Point Reyes Light, The West Marin Citizen, and many other publications.
A 1967 graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Rowe also earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. In the early 1970s, he was one of Ralph Nader’s “Raiders.”
He served on staffs in the House of Representatives and the Senate, where he was a long-time aide to US Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota). He also served on the staff of the Washington, DC, city council.
The memorial began in Toby’s Feed Barn where friends and community members paid tribute to the late journalist and economist. Elizabeth Barnet (left) and Gary Ruskin (right) acted as masters of ceremony. Barnet and Mr. Rowe co-founded West Marin Commons. Ruskin, who once shared an office with Mr. Rowe in Washington, spoke of the man’s major importance as an economist. He drew a round of applause when he suggested naming the new commons after Mr. Rowe. His son Joshua, a third grader at West Marin School, told about having Mr. Rowe for a father.
Joshua also circulated through the Feed Barn, unobtrusively keeping his classmates orderly. When some youngsters sitting high on a stack of hay bales became a little noisy, the eight year old climbed up to them and whispered, “Guys, you gotta get off the hay bales.”
Providing music for the occasion, Joyce Kouffman playing a bass led the crowd in singing This Little Light of Mine.
Morgan noted that Mr. Rowe and he were both programmers at KWMR community radio, with Morgan’s show being aired immediately after Mr. Rowe’s.
By invitation, Mr. Rowe would often stick around the studio after his show and take part in Morgan’s show, expanding upon comments he had made in the preceding show.
Morgan said he was always impressed by Mr. Rowe’s ability to calmly discuss controversial issues.
Others who spoke included: journalist Todd Oppenheimer, who described swimming in San Francisco Bay with Mr. Rowe; Sylvia Oliver, who like Mr. Rowe had worked in US Senator Byron Dorgan’s office; Emily Levine, who described giving an economics talk based almost entirely on a cover story by Mr. Rowe in The Atlantic Monthly; writer Russ Baker, who described Mr. Rowe as “my intellectual partner”; Nancy Bertelsen, who read her own poem; and Michael Cohen, who said that 40 years ago he had been Mr. Rowe’s yoga teacher and considered him part of “the company of the wise.”
Joshua told the crowd his father accompanied him when he walked to school and liked to tell jokes. He himself joked that the reason he liked walking with his father was just to hear the jokes.
After school, they went swimming or bicycle riding or played sports, he added. Joshua drew a laugh from the crowd when he described his father as “a good soccer player for his age.” Joshua noted that his father had catered to his fascination with trucks, and “I still remember when I was little he used to write stories about trucks.”
At the new commons, Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey reported that county supervisors had adjourned in memory of Mr. Rowe to honor his community work.
After the tributes in Toby’s Feed Barn, the crowd walked two blocks to the new West Marin Commons at Highway 1 and Fourth Street to hear more speakers, see the dedication of a large bench in Mr. Rowe’s honor, and enjoy a potluck luncheon.
Creating the massive bench was Rufus Blunk of Inverness (at microphone). He is the husband of Elizabeth Barnet, who with Mr. Rowe co-founded the West Marin Commons project.
When the crowd arrived, the bench was wrapped in the tarpaulins piled at the left. Once the bench was unveiled, people sprinkled it with pine needles and flower petals.
At different times, speakers’ words brought tears to many people’s eyes, but the overwhelming sentiment was how fortunate West Marin had been to have had Mr. Rowe helping guide community affairs for 15 years.