We lost Dwight Cowan to bladder cancer on December
8, 2003. He will be sorely missed by everyone who
Dwight was the first classmate I got to know at the start of freshman year. He had effortless charm and a certain sense of fun and lightness of being that immediately erased all doubts I may have had about whether I was going to enjoy college life. Dwight made an extraordinary number of long-lasting and close friendships at Amherst and afterwards. (When I moved to New York City in 1962, I was immediately swept up into the wide circle of friends he had assembled during the prior two years, through whom I ultimately met my wife). He would tell hilarious stories about his adventures and misadventures, one of the best of which involved a summer job working on a crew painting guardrails along a highway in Vermont. Along came a Greyhound bus, and Dwight could not resist sticking out his paintbrush and adding a bright yellow stripe to the bus’s otherwise staid markings. Word eventually got back to the crew foreman, who instinctively sensed who the culprit must have been and ended Dwight’s highway department career on the spot.
Dwight was a gifted natural athlete. He was a track star at Amherst, specializing in the high jump and pole vault and winning many meets with his unique one-shoe-off, one-shoe-on high jump technique. As the Aqua Show’s clown diver he brilliantly combined his athletic gifts with his sense of the comic, leaping off the high dive platform with a hilarious, carefree “what me worry?” air.
Dwight was a highly principled, somewhat irreverent, independent thinker, challenging every convention that ever was and rooting out pretension, pomposity, and conceit wherever he found it. This trait would get him in trouble at the stock brokerages where he was employed in the late 60s and early 70s when he refused, against his own economic self-interest, to peddle initial public offerings he judged overpriced or too risky. He was also an entrepreneur, starting with a very profitable small loan business (he called it loan sharking) tiding his fellow army enlisted men over to the next payday in Thule, Greenland. Much later in life, he and Laurie founded a successful business, Brinkerhoff Lamps and Shades, designing, making and selling unusual, creative lamps made from musical instruments, old plumbing fixtures, and the like.
Dwight was born on October 16, 1935, in New York City to Richard B. (Amherst ’23) and Elizabeth Brinkerhoff (Billings) Cowan. He married Laurie Chisolm in 1986, and in 1989, shortly after their children Allison and Zachary were born, they moved from New York City to the lovely old farmhouse in Shaftsbury, VT, where Dwight had grown up, and where he died at peace in the bosom of his beloved family. John Bischof, Amos Hostetter, Steve Swope, and Sally and I attended the memorial service for Dwight at his and Laurie’s church in East Arlington on December 15, 2004, and extended the Class’s condolences to Laurie and the children.
—John L. Davenport ’58