In Memoriam: Dr. Nancy Cowden

University of Lynchburg Associate Director of the Westover Honors College, Dr. Nancy Cowden

By Cassandra Matthews ~ Assistant Editor

This weekend, beloved biology professor and Associate Director of the Westover Honors College Dr. Nancy Cowden passed away.

Dr. Cowden has been a faculty member of the University of Lynchburg since 2000. She taught courses in biology, plant biology, plant ecology, general ecology, and sustainable forest management. In Westover, Dr. Cowden taught various colloquia and a senior thesis course.

As well as teaching, Dr. Cowden was the curator and director of the Ramsey-Freer Herbarium, the major repository for the Blue Ridge Parkway, located at the Claytor Nature Center. She worked with the Smithsonian Institute to digitize specimens so that botanists and naturalists worldwide could experience them. 

Dr. Cowden also participated extensively in community projects, such as leading hikes, working with community education programs, volunteering with Lynchburg Grows, and knitting scarves and hats for people in need as part of the Lynchburg Chase the Chill program. She also had a love of orchids, studying them and protecting them from development both on campus and at the Claytor Nature Center. 

Dr. Cowden with students at the Claytor Nature Center. Photo by John McCormick.

Elizabeth Roti, a senior, said that her first biology class at the University of Lynchburg was taught by Dr. Cowden. “She was an incredibly intelligent person and was very soft spoken. My favorite thing about her was that she posted countless plant biology comics to the inside of her office door. My freshman year would not have been nearly as good without her,” said Roti. 

Senior Grace Cavanaugh said, “Dr. Cowden was my major advisor for the past four years. Even though I didn’t see her a lot, she always remembered what we’d been discussing, and she was always so quick to help me out with whatever I was struggling with. She was my HONR 451 professor, too, and helped me figure out what I was writing my thesis on, even though she had no prior experience in that field. She was so kind, and so very caring about all her students, and always willing to go above and beyond for us. I’m going to miss her so much, and I know I won’t be alone in that respect.”

Provost Allison Jablonski said, “Nancy will be missed for so many of her attributes, but perhaps the greatest was her ease of relationship with students and faculty. She guided many, many students through the Westover thesis process, supporting them, and gaining their trust in the process. She worked closely with students on her research and launched many into graduate school. Faculty members will miss her as she was a solid team player and colleague, always ready to lend a hand, share a joke and appreciate the joys and struggles of teaching. I will miss her a great deal.” 

Dr. Beth Savage, the Dean of the Westover Honors College, also expressed her sentiments. “Nancy Cowden dedicated her life to education, both for herself, as she was constantly learning, and for her students and her community as well. She epitomized honors education, offering the many students she mentored equal parts challenge and support, and she was instrumental in building the Westover Honors College into what it is today. She fought fiercely for her students, and for causes she believed in. She was a generous mentor not just to her students, but to her faculty colleagues as well, and I benefited greatly from her kind and thoughtful counsel–as did so many faculty in Biology and Environmental Science. Dr. Cowden was equally likely to argue with you passionately, and to bring you vegetables from her garden–probably even on the same day […] Her energy, kindness, and spirit knew no bounds, and her loss will be deeply felt.”

A memorial service for Cowden will be held on Friday, Nov. 20, at 10 a.m. in Snidow Chapel, the service will also be livestreamed.

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