Whether it was the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos, the Day Worker Center of Mountain View or the Boss Barbell Club, Cornell Fowler seemed to make connections wherever he went.
Those who knew him are now mourning the loss of a man they say brought people together. Mr. Fowler, 64, died at El Camino Hospital May 12 after suffering multiple strokes.
“He knew everybody, because everywhere he went, he took the time to get to know people and talk with them and learn about their families,” said Patricia Evans, Mr. Fowler’s friend and landlord.
Evans and husband Fred rented a room in their Los Altos home to Mr. Fowler for the past five years. Over that time, the couple came to know him for his outgoing personality and generous spirit.
It’s that larger-than-life persona that Sparkle Green remembers. Green and husband Dan run Boss Barbell Club, a private gym in Mountain View where Mr. Fowler worked out and was heavily involved.
Green, who is pregnant and has two young twins at home, said Mr. Fowler would bring her food almost every day, often a chicken sandwich from his favorite spot. Over the years, he became family, volunteering to watch the gym when Green was out of town, working the front desk when she took a lunch break and giving tours to prospective members.
“Everyone knew Cornell,” Green said. “He didn’t have one shy bone in his body, not one.”
Mr. Fowler was born in St. Louis and grew up in Chicago. He graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
After college, he worked as a reporter at the Des Moines Tribune and later at United Press International. In becoming a journalist, Mr. Fowler followed in the footsteps of his grandmother, who wrote for Jet Magazine, the St. Louis Argus and the Chicago Defender.
He later worked in public relations and was involved in various political campaigns. According to his cousin, Harry Colbert, he was part of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ run for district attorney of San Francisco.
In recent years, Mr. Fowler got very involved in nutrition and weight lifting. That came in part after he tackled a drug addiction. According to cousin Lisa Fleming, Mr. Fowler was sober for at least the past 13 years and had embraced a healthy lifestyle. He worked out nearly daily and would do reps deadlifting 315 pounds, Green said.
He also stayed active in his work, often staging houses and helping people with moving projects. He frequently found jobs through the Day Worker Center of Mountain View.
Each holiday season, Mr. Fowler worked at the Kiwanis Club’s tree lot, where he sold trees and set them up in customers’ homes. He also helped out at Los Altos United Methodist Church’s annual rummage sale.
It wasn’t just those nearby whom Mr. Fowler was close to. He and Colbert talked multiple times a week, even though they hadn’t seen each other in person for years. Colbert, who works as a journalist, said Mr. Fowler would critique his work and agreed to edit a book Colbert is working on.
“Of course I want to think I have this unique or special connection, but the fact of the matter is Cornell had special connections with a lot of different people,” Colbert said.
Mr. Fowler created lifelong friendships with those from school, college, his fraternity, his professional career and beyond, Colbert said, adding that his cousin was “the life of the party” but was also “intelligent beyond belief” and could engage people on a wide variety of topics.
Evans similarly said Mr. Fowler always seemed to have a joke or a story about any topic, making him a great conversationalist.
“(On) everybody and every topic, he was able to converse like an expert,” Evans said. “It was just obvious he was very smart.”
That may have come from being part of a family of “teachers and preachers,” as cousin Fleming describes it. Their family was focused on embracing education, culture and the arts, she said, with many of the women in the family working as educators and the men as ministers.
All the way to the end of his life, Mr. Fowler was focused on giving to others. He had signed up to be an organ donor and donated his organs upon his death, Fleming said.
For Los Altos resident Susan Roberts, who knew Mr. Fowler through the Day Worker Center and Kiwanis Club, that donation holds special significance. Roberts is a heart transplant recipient herself and said it touched her that he was able to make that final gift.
“He was a perfect candidate given his strong health,” Roberts said. “His particular sad situation became such a gift to others.”