Vermont has lost a visionary philanthropist. Teachers have lost a passionate advocate and schools a committed partner. And I have lost a dear friend. I speak, of course, of Barry Rowland who passed away on June 25, 2018. I can’t imagine anyone living a fuller life!
Back in 2008 when I approached Barry and Wendy Rowland to start a foundation that recognized teachers as the key agents for change in Vermont schools, Barry looked to Wendy and simply stated, “We need to do this.” Ten years later there are 69 Rowland Fellows in and around Vermont, 35 schools are the direct beneficiaries of the Rowland generosity and Barry’s legacy can be found in every successful project he helped launch.
Barry started The Rowland Foundation because he loved his adopted state, because he believed in the power of education and the teachers who step into our classrooms each morning, and mostly because he cared so deeply about young people, particularly those facing socio-economic obstacles. I often saw a tear in Barry’s eyes as our Board of Trustees read over grant applications and eavesdropped on the climate for learning found in some schools and the hardships faced by too many of our students. His philanthropy and generosity came from somewhere deep in his heart. Nothing gave me more pleasure than observing Barry’s pride as Rowland Fellows shared their work at our annual dinner or as he read the many letters of gratitude that he and Wendy have deservedly received over the years. Barry, Wendy and I met often where Barry would inevitably ask how a certain Rowland Fellow was doing, even years after the Foundation had funded his or her initiative. When The Rowland Foundation celebrated its tenth anniversary this past May, Barry’s health was failing, but there he was enjoying the company of our Fellows and sharing in the festivities. It was at this event that we announced that The Rowland Foundation had received the highest award offered by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, “The Distinguished Service Award for Service to Education.” I am so grateful that Barry was able to learn about this honor for one small family foundation from one small state!
Barry insured that the work of the Rowland Foundation would continue long after his death through an endowment which generates an annual income that for years to come will support the dreams of Vermont teachers who wish to take a leadership role in improving the culture and climate of their schools. Barry Rowland was a true visionary.
A few days before Barry died, I visited him at his farm in South Londonderry. I spoke quietly to him as he drifted in and out of consciousness. I wasn’t even sure if he was aware of my presence. But when I told him that my greatest professional honor was running a foundation that bears his name, Barry opened his eyes for a moment and squeezed my hand. I got up, hugged Wendy goodbye and drove home in tears.
I know that I speak for every Rowland Fellow and for the principals of every Vermont school which have benefited from Barry’s generosity in expressing my heartfelt sympathy to Wendy, her two daughters and her four grandchildren for their profound loss.
Rest In peace, Barry Rowland, a giant of a man.
The Rowland Foundation