August 23, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 34

"Haines hero" Eric McDowell dies at 69

Haines schoolmates of Eric McDowell this week described him as a role model and valued friend. McDowell, who gained statewide recognition as a Juneau-based researcher and consultant, died Aug. 13 at age 69.

The apparent cause of death was a systemic staph infection.

“He was one of my heroes. He was a hero of Haines,” said state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, this week. McDowell played on a Haines High School team that nearly won the Southeast title, losing to Juneau in a disputed state tournament game in 1959.

“He inspired everybody to be a basketball player,” Thomas said. “He was one of the first white men who could jump. He was impressive.”

Former resident Eric Bennett recalled McDowell mentoring him on a dirt-surface court behind Haines High School. “We would play by headlights after sunset, usually running the battery dead on his dad’s grocery store delivery van… However, his influence on my life was as a great friend, listener and counselor. He always managed to contact me at critical times.”

McDowell was born in Juneau in 1942, to Bert and Betty McDowell. According to an obituary published in the Juneau Empire, the family moved to Haines in 1956. They operated the Food Center grocery store in the ground floor of Main Street’s Chisel Building. Eric served as one of the original members of the Chilkat Dancers.

McDowell graduated from University of Alaska-Fairbanks and received a master’s degree in business administration from University of Oregon. He started McDowell Group in 1972 as a one-man office, working off a desk fashioned from a door and two sawhorses, according to the Empire.

He expanded the research and consulting firm, which today includes a staff of 14 full-time employees and offices in Juneau, Anchorage and Bellingham, Wash. He also worked for years as a commercial troll fisherman and had finished this year’s king salmon season before becoming sick.

McDowell struggled with alcohol and addiction in his early years but had been clean and sober nearly 40 years when he died, according to the Empire obituary. He considered his ‘sobriety date’ as the day he joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1986, the article said. He was a practicing alcohol recovery counselor. A lifetime musician who played at the Alaska Folk Festival, he recently wrote songs about recovery and personal growth.

McDowell played competitive basketball more than 50 years, including city league and at Gold Medal tournaments. According to college friend Bill Watterson, McDowell was a star shooter who could also dunk. By virtue of his birth date, he recently qualified and competed in a division for players over 70, according to the Empire.

McDowell was adopted into the Tlingit culture by Richard and Jessie Dalton and given the name Nakut’.

McDowell was preceded in death by parents Bert and Betty McDowell, brother Peter and son Mark. He is survived by partner Lana Tolls of Juneau, sisters Nancy Lange and Jeannie Burgess, former wife Jo McDowell of Juneau, and by son and daughter-in- law Chris and Lisa McDowell of Juneau. Services were held Aug. 22 at Juneau’s Centennial Hall.