This tribute was originally posted at WhoWhatWhy.com.
Jonathan Rowe was, by inclination, an unobtrusive man. He moved through this world quietly, and he left quietly.
He did not promote himself. He was not comfortable seeking recognition. He concentrated instead on substance.
Jon died the other day, abruptly, with no warning of any kind, and left behind a wife, Mary Jean, and an 8-year-old son, Josh.
In part because of his modesty, and in part because celebrity and valor are not the same, you very likely did not know of him. Or, if you did, not nearly enough.
There are so many things that could and should be said about Jon, but I will not attempt to say them all. Jon’s friend David Bollier has already beautifully summed up Jon’s work, achievements and writing interests on his blog. I encourage you to read what he has to say, at http://www.bollier.org/my-friend-jonathan-rowe-1946-2011-appreciation. In fact, I’d suggest you read David’s piece first, as it will give you the “biography” and so you will have some context for my personal observations.
I’m going to focus here on what it was like to have the pleasure of knowing Jon as friend, mentor, and confidant.
Jon was my “intellectual partner.” I ran almost every idea by him. His mind and his hands touched my book, and he was integral to shaping our nonpartisan, nonprofit, news site, WhoWhatWhy. A mutual friend tells me Jon was excited by what we were doing and looked forward to his deepening involvement.
I met Jon more than two decades ago, when we both wrote for the Christian Science Monitor. We were introduced by a colleague, who for some reason thought we would hit it off. Boy, was she right. Jon was reticent around new people, almost profoundly shy. But first tentatively and then with growing comfort, he would engage on a level one rarely finds with more gregarious individuals.
He was, in short, a great friend if you were open to his laconically loving manner. And he always had something surprising to say—he was always musing in a slightly off-center way, practical but a bit more wide-ranging in his cerebral wanderings than most.
In the following years, Jon and I remained in close touch, though we seldom saw each other in person. In fact, during our long friendship, we were probably together no more than a few dozen times. That was principally because we were usually in different cities. I was in New York most of the time. He lived for years in Washington, where among other things, he had served on Capitol Hill, then settled in the bucolic coastal town of Point Reyes, north of San Francisco. He wrote, he had a radio show, he edited, he consulted, he lived the life of the writer-thinker-advocate.
Although we occasionally spoke by phone, we mostly communicated electronically, exchanging literally thousands of emails.