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[pct-l] Obituaries: Dr. John William Lowder


John William Lowder, 69; doctor, longtime outdoorsman

 By Jack Williams  STAFF WRITER 

 June 15, 1999 

 Three months before a hiking accident took his life, an adventurous John
William Lowder revealed the heart of a man at peace with the perils of nature.

 "When I die my wish is to be in the mountains, alone, and to have a few
hours with God," he told a friend.

 Dr. Lowder, 69, was in the midst of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, all
the way from East San Diego County to Canada, when he was found dead June 5
near Lone Pine.

 "He broke his own rule: Never hike alone," said his former wife, Ida Lowder.

 With a snowstorm expected the previous evening, Dr. Lowder had separated
from other hikers, encouraging them to go on at a pace he could not
sustain. Seeking warmer air, he hiked down a mountain.

 But as the storm hit, impairing his vision, he took one misstep and fell
about 60 feet from a cliff into a canyon, authorities said.

 Dr. Lowder survived the fall, despite breaking both legs and an arm, and
apparently was able to crawl into his sleeping bag. But a blow to the head
and massive internal injuries were too severe to overcome.

 By the time hikers reached him the next day, he was dead.

 An able and experienced hiker, Dr. Lowder had begun his trek April 23 at
Boulder Oaks, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Old Highway 80. He had
hoped to complete the scenic 2,650-mile journey by October, joining other
hikers along the route and picking up supplies at prearranged sites.

 If necessary, he planned to cut short his hike to tackle another
challenge: a canoe trip on the Klamath River with friends beginning Oct. 4.
Next on the adventure agenda was a millennium hike of the Continental
Divide between Mexico and Canada.

 A former chief of staff at Grossmont and Villa View Community hospitals,
Dr. Lowder retired from full-time medical practice in 1992. He then
fulfilled a goal to hike the Appalachian Trial, from Georgia to Maine, a
trek that spanned eight months and wore out three pairs of boots.

 "Jack was a very generous, very vigorous man," said longtime friend Marge
Cooper. "He biked, canoed, kayaked. Anything outdoors -- that was his life."

 As a member of the Knickerbikers, a San Diego cycling club, Dr. Lowder
completed several long-distance biking tours. In a recent summer, he cycled
through Europe for several months.

 He also had taken up white-water rafting in Washington state, Oregon and

 About 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and a solid 190 pounds, Dr. Lowder was
unusually strong for his age.

 Cooper recalled that last March, in a canoe trip in the turbulent waters
of the Colorado River, "it took all his strength to keep us from capsizing."

 Cooper was joined by several of Dr. Lowder's friends and some members of
his family Sunday at a memorial hike and informal service in his honor. The
hike started at Boulder Oaks and ascended some 900 feet to Kitchen's Creek.

 It was a trail Dr. Lowder had hiked many times before. There, amid
waterfalls and cottonwood trees, people shared memories of Dr. Lowder and
scattered some of his ashes.

 Many lauded him for the "sidewalk surgery," as they called it, that he had
performed on fellow bikers and hikers who had taken a bruising fall.

 A daughter, Leslie Cabezas, recited a poem she had written within an hour
after his cremation: "Broken on the Battle Field."

 "We recalled how patient and helpful he was," said Ken King, a biking
buddy. "He would never complain about a rainy day or bad weather. He was
always cheerful, with a 'Good morning,' and anxious to get on the road."

 Dr. Lowder, a La Mesa resident, settled in the San Diego area in 1958
after serving two years as a Navy doctor on Saipan.

 He practiced family medicine in Lemon Grove before joining a handful of
other physicians in founding Parkway Medical Group Inc. at 54th Street and
University Avenue.

 Dr. Lowder volunteered as a physician at San Diego Chargers football games
at Qualcomm Stadium. He served as an emergency room physician at Villa View
and as a ship physician for Norwegian and American Hawaii cruise lines.

 He was born in Steelton, Pa., and developed his love of the outdoors as a
youth. In football he was a star halfback as an undergraduate at Franklin &
Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

 Turning down a professional offer from the Green Bay Packers, Dr. Lowder
enrolled in Temple University's medical school. He earned a medical degree,
then served an internship at Harrisburg Hospital in Pennsylvania.

 "He was quite a scholar," his former wife said. "If he hadn't been a
physician, he would have loved teaching history.

 "He knew all about history and loved visiting old battlefields, including
Gettysburg. And he traced his family ancestry to North Carolina."

 As an aficionado of Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Lowder often shared a
favorite quote with fellow hikers: 

 "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only
the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to
teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." 

 Dr. Lowder's survivors include two daughters, Melissa Lowder of La Mesa
and Leslie Cabezas of Clairement; three sons, John, of San Carlos, Scott,
of Temecula, and Jason, of La Mesa; a sister, Lucille Boyer of San Antonio;
and four grandchildren.

 Private services were held.

 Copyright 1999 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. 

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