Allison S. Cowles, one Spokane’s most prominent and influential civic leaders, died in the early hours of Sunday morning at her residence in Spokane. Family members reported the cause of death as pancreatic cancer.
Cowles was born July 12, 1934 in New Jersey. Following her graduation from Westfield (NJ) High School, she enrolled at Wellesley College, graduating cum laude with a B.A. in History in 1955. She was both a Durant and Trustee Scholar at Wellesley and her academic excellence led to her election to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1954. Upon graduation from Wellesley, Cowles pursued post-graduate studies at Harvard University, where she earned a master’s degree in history in 1956 and completed course work for a Ph.D. with a focus on the history of modern Europe, Britain and comparative economic systems.
In 1959, she married William H. Cowles 3rd, who would later succeed to the publishership of The Spokesman-Review newspaper, the presidency of Cowles Publishing Company and chairmanship of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association. Mr. Cowles preceded his wife in death in 1992. In 1996, Ms. Cowles married Mr. Sulzberger, chair emeritus of the New York Times Company.
Cowles, widely admired for her intelligence and wit, served as a director on many industry, institutional and not-for-profit boards. She was a director of the Seattle First National Bank and SeaFirst Corporation from 1990 to 1997. She was a former trustee of Wellesley and of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and served on advisory and fundraising capital campaign committees for Washington State University. She held an honorary doctorate from Gonzaga University, and, she received the 1983 President’s Medal of Pacific Lutheran University. She was a director of the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities from 1981 to 1990. A 10-year member of the Washington State Council for Postsecondary Education, she chaired the Council from 1976 to 1979.
Since 1992, Cowles had been a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Board. In 1988-89, she chaired a number of key projects and committees relating to the Centennial of Washington statehood.
A passionate and articulate advocate for arts and social services, Cowles was a longtime trustee and former chair of Spokane’s Family Counseling Service and the first female chair of the Spokane YMCA. She also served two terms as a trustee of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and she founded the School Volunteer Aide Program for Spokane’s School District #81.
As a devoted Wellesley alumna, Cowles served as a trustee of the college from 1987 to 1999, and was an overseer and active fundraiser for the Wellesley Centers for Women.
Her love of skiing, fishing, sailing and hiking led to her involvement in nature conservancy causes. She was a leading advocate for the revitalization of the Mt. Spokane Ski Area and served as vice-chair of the organization devoted to its preservation and development. She once said she consider her involvement with Mt. Spokane “one of the most meaningful things”: she had done. “Allison’s Way,” a trail in the ski area, was named in her honor. Since 1997, Cowles had served as a board member of New York City’s Central Park Conservancy Women’s Committee.
Since her marriage to Mr. Sulzberger, Cowles has resided primarily in New York City, but she and her husband maintained a second residence in Spokane, where she has continued to support local arts and social-service organizations. Among many affiliations, she was a longtime member and former director the Junior League of Spokane and belonged to The Spokane Club, Spokane Sailing Club and Spokane Ski Club. She also was a member of the Western Washington Wellesley Club, New York Wellesley Club, Wellesley College Club, and the American Historical Association.
Cowles is survived by her husband, Mr. Sulzberger; by a son, William Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review and president of Cowles Company, Spokane; by a daughter, Elizabeth Allison Cowles, chairman of Cowles Company, Spokane; a brother, Dr. Richard Stacey, Spokane; four stepchildren, Cathy Sulzberger, Chevy Chase, MD; Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., New York, NY; Karen Sulzberger, Beverly Hills, CA; Cynthia Sulzberger, Manalapan, FL; and by 13 grandchildren.
Memorial services are pending. The family has asked that memorial contributions, in lieu of flowers, be directed to Wellesley College (Office of Resources, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA, 02481; Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park (29500 N. Mt. Spokane Park Drive, Mead, WA 99021); Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest and North Idaho; or The New York Central Park Conservancy (Central Park Conservancy, 14 E. 60th St, New York, NY, 10022).
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