Don Fowler, a longtime University of South Carolina professor and mainstay in South Carolina politics, died Tuesday, December 15. He was 85.
Fowler taught political science in the College of Arts and Sciences for more than 50 years, inspiring countless alumni to engage in the political process and look across party lines for bipartisan understanding. He was the chair of the Democratic National Committee and also served the party at the state level.
The UofSC community remembers him for his passion for teaching politics and for his connections that enriched campus life by bringing nationally recognized speakers.
“Don was an excellent teacher in the area of American politics for nearly 50 years," says Lacy Ford, dean of the college. “From every decade of his tenure, there are a number of South Carolina graduates who say Don was the best professor. He never lost his enthusiasm for the classroom or his love of students.”
As just one example, Luke Rankin, a 2020 graduate and political science major, recalls the first time Fowler reached his name while calling roll for a class. Upon recognizing the name, Fowler spoke about having been friends with Rankin's grandfather and having taught his father in college. That personal connection made Fowler a mentor and friend to Rankin. Last year, he served as Rankin's thesis director.
"Don Fowler had this incredible ability not only to remember someone's name, but also where they were from and where they were headed," Rankin says. "He had a multi-generational impact on so many lives across our university, South Carolina and the nation."
Kirk Randazzo, chair of the political science department, said Fowler taught courses in “virtually every aspect of American politics.”
“His classes were always popular and students loved learning from him, regardless of their own political affiliations,” Randazzo says. “Every time he entered Gambrell Hall, there was a smile on his face, and I thoroughly enjoyed each conversation we shared.”
Fowler was the President of Fowler Communications, Inc., a public and governmental relations firm. He served as Chair of the SC Democratic Party from 1971 to 1980, as CEO of the Democratic National Convention in 1988, and as Chair of the Democratic National Committee in 1995 and 1996.
Because of his active role in national politics, Fowler made many connections with national media and political figures, and he often invited them to Columbia to speak to voters at his home or to students at the university.
Ford recalls working with Fowler to organize events in 2013 to commemorate the university’s 50th anniversary of desegregation. When a key speaker was unable to attend, Fowler invited Andrew Young, the former politician and ambassador to the United Nations, who became the event’s new keynote speaker. “He came out and hosted a remarkable evening about the desegregation area and his vision for the nation’s united future,” Ford says. “Only Don Fowler would have been able to convince him to come on such short notice.”
Fowler also taught many courses in the South Carolina Honors College and a key part of its Washington Semester program. In addition to his teaching, Fowler served on the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors, where he offered “sound and sober judgment,” Ford says.
Randazzo says Fowler’s influence reaches far and wide.
“In many ways, Don Fowler was a pillar not just within UofSC, but across the state of South Carolina, and throughout this nation,” he says.
Rankin agrees. "His legacy will live on in so many ways, especially through the countless lives he has changed for the better."
“My sympathies go out to Don’s wife, Carol, and the rest of his family, and his many close friends and associates," Ford says. “We will all miss his energetic and sparkling presence.”
According to the Post & Courier, Fowler died after a battle with leukemia. He is survived by his wife, Carol, and adult children Donnie and Cissy.