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William Richard Cowan

July 19th, 1942 - December 18th, 2020
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William Richard (“Dick”) Cowan, Ph.D., P.Eng., passed away peacefully in hospital on December 18, 2020 in his 79th year.  

Dick was the beloved husband of 53 years to Pamela and loving father of Wendy, Patrick (deceased), Danielle (Kyle Shackley), and Paula (David Clarke). He was affectionately known as “Pop” to his cherished grandchildren, Mya, Haley, Nicholas, and Wesley. He is sadly missed by his siblings Gail (Steve), Judie (Alan), and Ian (Jan), as well as by sister-in-law Susan (Brian), his extended family, and his many friends and colleagues.  

Dick was born to parents Ralph and Marjorie in Ottawa. At age 8, his family moved to a farm in Manotick, Ontario. There he learned to love the outdoors, and he continued to hunt and fish throughout his life. He loved sports: he played hockey well into his adult life, he enthusiastically coached hockey and softball for many years, and he was an avid follower of professional sports. 

Dick graduated from Carleton University in 1964 (B.A.), McGill University in 1967 (M.Sc.), and the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1975 (Ph.D.), specializing in quaternary geology and geomorphology. He enjoyed a rewarding career primarily with the Ontario Geological Survey and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, as well as stints with Techman Engineers, the Northern Pipeline Agency, and as a field geologist across northern Canada. He accumulated more than 50 years of experience in environmental assessment, mine rehabilitation, and scientific administration and project management. His work enabled him to travel the globe.  

He continued to work after retirement, establishing a successful consulting business and providing advisory services to the mining sector in mine rehabilitation, mining legislation and abandoned mines. He completed projects on abandoned mines and quaternary geology issues. He also enjoyed many hobbies, including beekeeping, coin collecting, and most of all, spending time with his children and grandchildren. Along with his many professional achievements, his family was always his priority and his most valued accomplishment.    

His siblings describe him as being the grown up in the room through his wisdom, sage advice, and deep moral sense. His warmth, relaxed manner, and keen sense of humour drew people towards him.  He was loved and respected by many and will be deeply missed.  

A celebration of life will be planned for the future. For those interested in honouring Dick’s life, we invite you to post a tribute to his profile at the Arbutus Funeral Services Inc. (Langley BC) website. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating in Dick’s name to the Parkinson Society British Columbia. View Tribute Book.


Mike Grant
December 2nd, 2022

Pam, Danielle and family, please accept my deepest condolences. Dick was a wonderful man.

Dick hired me into the mines rehabilitation group of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines in 1998. From then until his retirement, he provided a superb place to work; Dick made the nights I spent cramming for my interview the best investment I made in my working life. He set high expectations for himself and his staff and then watched carefully to make sure we did not get in over our heads. I learned the value of an open door, delegating with trust and results-based management from his example. Trust was the key--he trusted in and was trusted by his staff.

There are many of us who remember and admire Dick as a leader and a friend. When gatherings are possible again, there will be toasts to his memory.

Mike Grant,
Thunder Bay

John Andrews
December 2nd, 2022
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Dick was a friend, a colleague, a former student and a gift to us all.
I first met Dick in 1963 when he applied for a summer position with the then Geographical Branch of the Canadian Government. He was accepted and assigned to a research group that I was leading to work on the Quaternary geology of the area around the northern edge of the Barnes Ice Cap, Baffin Island. Dick was a student at Carleton University and knew Martha (Andrews) who was an instructor at that time. She remembers that Dick joked that he was accepted for the summer program because he knew how to operate a radio. A continuation of that joke was of course that our single side band radio contact was intermittent at best and usually non-existent. It did lead to one funny incidence where we radioed “the field party is very merry”, which we were led to understand caused consternation in Ottawa as it came across as “the field party had Beriberi” ---we blamed Dick’s accent! We flew out in late May, landed on the lake ice, unloaded the gear, and did not see another soul until late July/early August when enough lake had melted for a float plane to land. We had intermittent short-wave radio contact with the DEW Line stations. Dick proved his mettle in what could be trying times, with a wry sense of humour and a calm disposition. Three of us in the 1963 paper had undertaken MSc theses at the McGill Sub-Arctic Research Station and possibly because we had really appreciated the experience Dick followed suite. His MSc thesis was published as a paper in the Canadian Journal of Earth Science in 1968. The Director of the Lab. at the time was Peter Adams, who went on to be, amongst other things, a Member of Parliament. Peter and Dick kept in contact until Peter’s death in 2018. Dick and Pam turned up, with my encouragement, at the University of Colorado in 1971 and completed his PhD in 1975.
Dick was one of a cadre of students who in the early 1970’s set the University of Colorado on the road to be one of the premier Quaternary studies programs in North America and indeed the world. His Doctoral Dissertation “Stratigraphy and Quantitative analysis of Wisconsinan Till, Brantford-Woodstock area, Ontario, Canada” was supported by the Ontario Geological Survey. Dick’s career with the Ontario Geological Survey resulted in the publication of several map sheets and reports as well as publications in peer reviewed journals. One of his lasting contributions is in the coauthored chapter in the Decade of North American Geology (1989) on the Quaternary history of the Canadian Shield.
Later on Martha and I were fortunate to have Dick and Pam visit Boulder several times as their son-in-law David and daughter Paula moved to Boulder for his PhD. This resulted in several get-togethers and occasions to re-live both the Baffin days as well as experiences at McGill. In recent years we have kept in touch by exchanging several emails per year and of course the annual Xmas letters. Dick was a dear friend to both Martha and myself. We will miss him.

Kim Rossi
December 2nd, 2022

Dear Pam and family.
We would like to extend to all of you our most sincere sympathy. May you find comfort in all of your wonderful memories of your time with Dick. Pam, I hope you are doing ok.
Kim Rossi and David Lapierre
Sudbury ON

Craig Morrison
December 2nd, 2022

Dick Cowan was a decent man. From the first moment of meeting him, you sensed many things. For one, he was fiercely intelligent. Not in a scary way, but a "I want to stay on my toes around this guy" kind of way. Incisively witty, quick and direct, Dick's presence was keenly felt. His ability to be right there, right now, with you and nobody else, is a quality very few others own.

Dick and I met when he and Pam were part of a larger gathering where my wife and I hosted. I started barbecuing and Dick followed me out to keep me company. Well, the mosquitoes were instantly horrendous. We killed and killed them as I slowly worked at my task as BBC cook and Dick just stayed there with me. They were so bad. He never made a move to go inside. I offered. He was one tough guy.

I'll miss the occasional dinners we shared. And I'll miss his wide set eyes. I'm sorry Pam.

Much Love.
Craig Morrison

Kim and PJ Burns
December 2nd, 2022

We heard today about Dick's passing. Our Parkinson support group really loved Dick. He was always out at the McLeod park track walking with us. He was a force to be reckoned with but there was also that twinkle and grin that went along with his walk. Pam, we are here. Much love Kim and PJ Burns

Dave & Dorothy Constable
December 2nd, 2022

Pam and Family,

I only heard about Dick's passing today. It brought back so many memories of working with Dick at MNDM. He was a kind, generous boss and he had a wicked sense of humour. He was a shrewd observer of human nature and an always supportive manager. When you worked for Dick the work culture was a happy place to be. Everyone felt safe, valued and listened to. Dick's door was always open. He was the ideal, honest, fair civil servant who brought the best to public service. He had an office filing system very similar to mine, piles of papers on any flat surface. However, he could just stick his hand into any pile of papers and retrieve the exact paper he was looking for at that moment. I never did learn how he did that miracle. I know his passing will leave a hole in your lives, but warm memories of a good and faithful servant will help fill those dark moments. I will remember Dick with respect as a colleague, mentor and friend.

Dave & Dorothy Constable
Burlington, ON

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