Wally Lowry, former Sonoma State professor, Santa Rosa schools trustee, dies at 83

Wally and Ellie Lowry (Erik Castro/For The Press Democrat)


Wally Lowry co-founded the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University and he seemed to be everywhere that Sonoma County people gathered to serve and strengthen the community.

For decades, the sociable and reliably cheerful Navy veteran and Stanford- and Berkeley-educated accountant donated leadership, time and money to a wide range of local organizations and endeavors.

He served over the years on Santa Rosa’s school board, the Housing Authority and Redevelopment Agency and Chamber of Commerce. At one benefit event after another he worked the room, swapped stories and dug deep for the cause du jour.

“Wally was just very, very active in a lot of ways that people didn’t always know about,” said Ellie Lowry, his wife of nearly 62 years. “He truly loved people.”

Wally Lowry died Sept. 14 after a medical struggle that began with a hard fall outside a restaurant in July. He was 83.

The native of Chicago was a CPA when he came to Sonoma County with his wife and young family in 1961, and he was still advising and preparing tax returns for clients until only a few years ago.

But he made his greatest public mark as an engaging and entertaining professor of Business Administration at SSU from 1969 until 2002, and as a tireless advocate of the college and of Sonoma County.

Nearly 20 years ago, he was appointed as founding director of the college’s groundbreaking Wine Business Education Program, created in response to requests by wineries that struggled to find qualified help with the business side of their operations. Cash donations that Lowry and his wife made to the creation of a new campus home for what’s now called the Wine Business Institute will be acknowledged by the naming of a portion of the building in their honor.

Passionate about education, the Lowrys also years ago created a scholarship for continuing students at SSU.

Wallace M. Lowry was born in Illinois on Nov. 20, 1933, and moved about a good deal after his father joined the Navy in World War II.

The family settled in Pacific Grove, near Monterey, in 1944. Young Lowry became an Eagle Scout and completed high school there, then went on to Hartnell College in Salinas and to Stanford, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and met his future wife.

They married in 1955 and lived in San Francisco while Lowry studied accounting at Golden Gate University.

The following year he joined the Navy, launching a military career that would cover 29 years, most of it with the Naval Reserve. His service took him around the world and he rose to the rank of captain.

In his civilian life, Lowry became a CPA and took a job with the accounting firm that became Deloitte & Touche. A short while later he switched to the accounting practice of Roy F. Mitchell in Santa Rosa.

Ellie Lowry became a teacher and rose to principal of Doyle Park School. The couple raised their two daughters in Santa Rosa.

SSU was still called Sonoma State College and was still in its first decade when Wally Lowry was hired onto the faculty of the School of Business and Economics in 1969. He taught at the school for 32 years, and following his retirement in 2001 continued to operate his private accounting practice.

Lowry was still teaching when he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Santa Rosa City Council in 1998. He was elected to the Santa Rosa school board in 2002 and served through 2010.

Lowry gave prodigious amounts of time and money to organizations that include the Sonoma State University Academic Foundation, Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts, Sonoma County Museum, Sonoma County Farmlands Group, Santa Rosa Rotary Club, Sonoma County Alliance, Sonoma County Family YMCA and Redwood Empire Boy Scouts Council.

He savored playing golf with his grandchildren and friends, and he was a collector of ink wells and other things that struck his fancy.

In addition to his wife in Santa Rosa, Lowry is survived by daughters Cynthia Zundel of Granite Bay and Stephanie Nacouzi of Santa Rosa; his sister, Elaine Ross of San Diego and 10 grandchildren.

A celebration of Lowry’s life will be from 3 to 5 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Legends at Bennett Valley bar and grill. Private interment will be at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon.

Lowry’s family suggests memorial contributions to the SSU Wine Business Institute, School of Business and Economics, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park 94928-3609.