Dr. Edward L. Towle Dies at Home

Dr. Edward Towle being feted at a dinner in St. Kitts in April 2005. Photo by Michael Dively, of the Mukti Fund, a 20-year donor to NGOs in St. Kitts and Nevis, and a long-time friend and supporter of Island Resources Foundation.


Edward L. Towle, long-time Caribbean conservationist, died at home in Washington, D.C., September 12, 2006, attended by his wife, relatives and many friends. His final illness was a result of injuries received in an elevator accident August 28, but he had suffered declining health for several years.

Born August 30, 1929, in Melrose, Massachusetts, Dr. Towle was globally recognized for his work conserving and restoring the environment of small islands, particularly in the Caribbean. From 1972 to 1998, he was the president of Island Resources Foundation in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, an organization he founded with his wife Judith in 1972. He remained active as a Senior Environmental Planner and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation after his retirement.

Among his many honors, in 1988, Dr. Towle was recognized as one of the United Nations Environment Programme’s “Global 500” honorees. He was the author of over 60 major publications, primarily on small island development and environmental planning. At the time of his death he was actively involved in planning implementation strategies for the preservation and management of Sandy Cay in the British Virgin Islands. He was the founding president of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society in the U.S. Virgin Islands and president of the regional Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA) from 1968 to 1974. It was during his tenure as president that the CCA emerged as the first region-wide voice for conservation and environmental planning in the Caribbean.

After graduation from Tufts University in 1952, Towle spent two years of active service in the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean, followed by three years ashore teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He returned to university studies at the University of Rochester in 1960, where he received a Ph.D. degree in the history of science and served as assistant director of the University’s Canadian Studies Program.

In 1964, Dr. Towle accepted a teaching post at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee campus, where he also served as the first director of the University’s Great Lakes Studies Center. He then joined the Smithsonian Institution’s naval history program, where, while on assignment for the Smithsonian in the Caribbean, he was recruited in 1967 to serve as the second Director of the Caribbean Research Institute at the College of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. From this time, until just shortly before his death, the Caribbean was Towle’s professional base and the focus of his energy and commitment.

It was during the early 1970s that Dr. Towle formed his vision for an independent, science-based organization to focus exclusively on protecting and enhancing the environments of small tropical islands.
The organization he founded in 1972, the Island Resources Foundation, has for almost three and a half decades been a leader in Caribbean resource conservation, environmental planning, and institution building.

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, Towle was a major contributor to both global and Caribbean-wide initiatives for small island protection. He frequently appeared as a small islands advocate in international forums and provided services to many international institutions, including the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development, and many Caribbean regional institutions.

Despite the praise he received throughout the years for the many tangible projects with which he was associated, Dr, Towle was always proudest of the intangible products of his work as head of Island Resources Foundation: the accomplishments of the “alumni” of the Foundation’s many intern and research associate appointments and the many Caribbean environmental advocacy organizations that were directly and indirectly assisted through programs that Towle designed with great care and attention to local needs, resources, and sensitivities. Even in the last week of his life, he was planning wildlife advocacy projects in support of conservation groups throughout the Caribbean region.

Surviving are his wife and Foundation partner for more than 30 years, Judith Ann Towle, daughters Amy Swiezynski and Sarah Spoerl and sons Peter and Geoffrey Towle of Exeter, New Hampshire, daughter Jazz Towle of Portland, Maine, six grandchildren, and sisters-in-law Bonita Fechner and Susan Frey.

A memorial service will be arranged later in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where Dr. Towle established a new office of the Foundation in 1998. Mrs. Towle asks that in lieu of flowers friends consider a donation to the Island Resources Foundation.