Honoring a Distinguished Gentleman and Jurist

By Chairman Christopher A. Hart

Judge_William_FowlerA commitment to aviation safety and fairness for all parties, with a passion for justice. That describes Judge William Fowler, a long-time NTSB Chief Administrative Law Judge whose career in service to the American public was nothing short of extraordinary.

On Sunday, August 9, 2015, the judicial and aviation community, along with the NTSB, bid farewell to Judge William Fowler, who passed away at the age of 93. He left a long legacy and storied career of public service.

I have known Judge Fowler for several decades, even before I first came to the NTSB in 1990. Judge Fowler, though not tall in stature, was most certainly a giant among men. He was humble, kind, dignified, helpful, and a gentleman, with superb judicial instincts.

Judge Fowler knew Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who served as an inspiration to many who have become lawyers, judges, and even chief judges. As Justice Marshall was an inspiration for so many, Judge Fowler served as an inspiration for me from the day we first met.

More than a half century ago, Judge Fowler came to Washington, DC, to work for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as a special assistant on the Department of Justice’s organized crime task force that investigated Mafia activity.

Prior to answering the call to serve for the U.S. Attorney General, Judge Fowler had already distinguished himself as the city prosecutor in his hometown, Akron, Ohio, then as Ohio’s Assistant Attorney General, and then as Chief of the Highway Division of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

After coordinating federal efforts against organized crime, which played an instrumental role in securing 11 convictions in New York and Pennsylvania, Judge Fowler’s next career move was to federal administrative law. That included positions with the U.S. Department of Labor, Social Security Administration, and U.S. Civil Service Commission (now the Office of Personnel Management). He began at the NTSB in 1969, when he was appointed as a Hearing Examiner. He was named the NTSB Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in 1977, and he continued serving in that position, not only managing the entire ALJ office, but also presiding over thousands of cases, until he retired in May 2012, after 53 years of distinguished service to the NTSB and to the American public.

In 2009, Judge Fowler was awarded the Mary C. Lawton Outstanding Government Service Award for his lifetime of excellence in administrative law. He was best known in the courtroom for his dignity and calm judicial temperament. He was not only a wonderful, caring, and thoughtful person, but he was such a great jurist that he won the respect of even those who lost their cases before him.

We at the NTSB thank Judge Fowler for his humanity, justice, and service to the NTSB and to the entire aviation community. He was always, and will always be, an inspiration to me, and he set a wonderful example for the entire federal service. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will remain forever.

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