Constance Jean Dowling | 1929-2020


Constance Jean Dowling (Jean) died at her home on Orcas Island, Washington State, November 5, 2020. She was 91. She died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by her family.

Jean was born July 28, 1929, in Amarillo Texas, the daughter of Lester and Marguerite Leeman. Her sister Mary Evelyn preceded her in death.

She is survived by three children: James Thomas Dowling (Teresa), Steven Mills Dowling, and Margaret Anne Dowling (James Thompson); two grandsons: Connor A. Dowling (Crystal) and Quinton M. Dowling (Ying); three great grandchildren: Lucas, Olivia, Evan; and her companion of the last several years, Tommy Speights.

Jean’s family moved to the Seattle area in 1935. In 1947, she graduated Valedictorian from Franklin High School, and then attended Mills College on a merit scholarship and became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society. In 1951, she received her degree in Fine Arts, married Dr. James Thomas Dowling, Sr., and moved to Boston where she worked at the Boston Fine Arts Museum and for whom she illustrated a book about the museum’s collections. She was married until 1967. From the late 60s to the early 80s, Jean worked at Camp Nor’Wester, where she formed many life-long and important friendships, including her friendship with Jack and Jan Helsell, directors of the camp, and their extended family.

At Camp Nor’Wester Jean called herself a secretary, but she did much more. From helping interview prospective staff, to bookkeeping and payroll for 95 seasonal staff, to arranging the travel and logistics (pre- computers) four times each summer for 195 campers from around the country, sometimes the world, so that they arrived and left Lopez Island safely and without incident; Jean was known as a member of the camp management. As one staff person, Carla Holm, recalls, Jean was “a friend, mentor and cherished task-master to us all. I hear her voice clearly in all its colors: Brilliant laughter, stern scolding, wise advising, deft scheming.”

Carla’s sister Karen Holm, credits Jean as an early role-model. Jean was “among the women who knew how to lead in a way that at once was powerful and subtle; steering and sensitive. Women that understood, in a different time, that their power was equal, and, in fact, could have more influence than the men around them… . These women shored up my early direction and inspired me to recognize my own potential.”

From 1983 until her death Jean lived on Orcas at “the end of a mile-long dirt road,” in a house she designed, which is perched on top of a grassy knoll with a view down West Sound to Mt. Rainier. She often declined to leave the island because, “I’m a barnacle on this rock,” and she joked that she socialized, “at the grocery store, the library, and the gas station.” Her grandchildren joined her for several weeks each summer and she kept them busy with fishing, sailing and relationship-building experiences.

Every visitor to her home was invited to tour her garden, no matter the weather, and while they strolled together with a glass of wine Jean admired each plant, identifying each by botanical name, sometimes its place of origin, and if she grew it from seed. Often guests left with a seedling in small pot, as “gardens are meant to be shared.”

Jean enjoyed and respected her family, her life-time friends, and her many friends and acquaintances on Orcas. We will cherish our memories and miss her terribly.