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Friends, family pay tribute to civic leader

Friends and family celebrate the life of Allison Stacey Cowles during her memorial at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Saturday May 8, 2010.  (Colin Mulvany)
Friends and family celebrate the life of Allison Stacey Cowles during her memorial at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Saturday May 8, 2010. (Colin Mulvany)

The sun lit up the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist just as the celebration of Allison Stacey Cowles’ life began Saturday – a symbol of the light she’d shone on so many lives personally and as a civic activist.

More than 650 guests attended the service to honor Cowles, some from as far away as California, Tennessee, Texas and New York.

“Allison was a wonderful friend. She had a great sense of humor and could be counted on for a good joke and a prank or two,” Cowles’ longtime friend Jean Kendall said during the ceremony. “She had a full and very productive life. She will be missed by us all.”

Cowles died at her Spokane home on April 25 from pancreatic cancer.

Cowles, matriarch of the family that owns The Spokesman-Review, was a keen advocate for higher education. She also put her considerable energies into helping families as chairwoman of Spokane’s Family Counseling Services, helping form Federal Community Defenders to provide criminal defense services to the indigent, serving on boards for the Spokane Symphony and YMCA, and working to improve Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park.

“She was such an asset to our community,” Kendall said. “At the same time she was very modest about her many accomplishments and just got the job done.”

Several members of the Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol showed their respect by donning uniforms for Saturday’s service.

U.S. District Judge Bob Whaley, who spoke at the ceremony, said Cowles was “an example to others who wanted to be successful.”

Among friends and family, she was known for her smarts, loyalty, compassion for animals, fun-filled Christmas parties, acts of love and her passion for the outdoors.

Cowles was born and raised in New Jersey. She started her schooling early and graduated valedictorian from high school when she was 16. She graduated from Wellesley College and met Bill Cowles while getting her master’s degree in history at Radcliffe College.

The couple settled in Spokane where they raised their two children, William Stacey Cowles and Elizabeth A. “Betsy” Cowles. Allison Cowles lived in Spokane for 36 years.

At Christmastime, adults and children looked forward to her parties. “Allison was a gracious hostess,” Kendall said. “People brought their instruments to accompany Bill, and with Stacey on the piano, we all sang Christmas carols.”

During other times of the year, visitors to Cowles’ home could look forward to seeing her pet parrot, Admiral Bird.

“He resided in a cage in the kitchen. He loved women but didn’t tolerate men,” Kendall said. “Often at the lake Allison would go running with Admiral flying from tree to tree following her, diverting only to fly to the tennis court to harass the players.”

Admiral Bird was just one of many animals Allison Cowles brought into the household. Kendall said, she “would bring home the sick and maimed to try to save them.”

In 1992, Bill Cowles died unexpectedly. She moved to New York in 1996 when she married her second love, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the New York Times Co.

Sulzberger’s poor health kept him away from Saturday’s ceremony, but his son, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., was there in his stead. Sulzberger is chairman of The New York Times Co., and is publisher of The New York Times.

He paid tribute to the woman who sparked joy in his father’s life.

“When Allison would leave to go to Spokane … his voice was gone,” Sulzberger said of his father, who was quiet and subdued in her absence. When she came home, he’d say, “Hello, sweetheart,” the happiness apparent in his voice, his son recalled.

“The greatest gift she gave us was that of love,” Sulzberger said, “in her words and in her deeds.”