Alexander Whitehill Clowes

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Trustee Emeritus and long-time MBL Society member Alexander (Alec) Whitehill Clowes who died on July 7, 2015. Dr. Clowes was a MBL Trustee throughout the 1990s and from 1997 to 1999 served as Vice-Chairman of the MBL Campaign Steering Committee.  An obituary provided by his family is below.

The MBL flag will be lowered in his memory.


alexander-clowesAlexander (Alec) Whitehill Clowes of Seattle and Woods Hole, professor of surgery at the University of Washington and researcher in vascular diseases, died of a brain glioblastoma on July 7, 2015, at 68.

Alec served as a trustee of The Marine Biological Laboratory from 1990 to 2000 as his father and grandfather had done before him.

He was born into a family with a legacy of medical research. His forebear, Sir William Clowes, physician to the admiral of the British fleet as it fought the Spanish Armada, published in 1588 one of the earliest textbooks on surgery in the English language. Alec’s grandfather was George Henry Alexander Clowes, scientist and mastermind behind the purification of insulin for clinical use, and his father, George Henry Alexander Clowes, Jr., was an academic surgeon and researcher at Case Western Reserve and Harvard.

It therefore is no surprise that Alec’s favorite memories were of the Children’s School of Science in Woods Hole in summers and science classes in high school (Phillips Exeter Academy, 1964) and college (Harvard College, 1968), followed by laboratory experience in Sheffield, England, during medical school (Harvard Medical School, 1972). Despite his original intention to restrict his career to research, he discovered profound enjoyment in patient care and switched to concentrate on a career in academic surgery.

He obtained his general surgery training at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, between 1972 and 1979, and advanced training in vascular surgery with Dr. John A. Mannick at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston (1979-1980). His thoughts never far from research, he interrupted his general surgery residency to work in the laboratory of Dr. Morris Karnovsky at Harvard Medical School. It was during this period (1974-1977) that Alec developed his life-long interest in vascular biology and arterial wound healing.

In 1980 at the conclusion of his training, Alec left New England for Seattle and joined the faculty of the Department of Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He rose through the ranks to Professor of Surgery in 1990, Acting Chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1992-3, and Chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery from 1995 to 2007. He developed an intense loyalty to the University of Washington where he found a cooperative environment that nurtured innovation, research, and outstanding patient care.

Throughout his years at the UW, Alec’s focus remained on his research, the training and mentoring of physicians for careers in academic vascular surgery, and the care of patients with vascular diseases. Along the way, he assumed leadership responsibilities in numerous national and international professional organizations. The National Institutes of Health funded his research for a third of a century. His efforts engendered many honors and awards; most recently Alec received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Vascular Surgery. His collected scientific publications fill over six volumes.

Despite the acclaim of his peers, Alec remained a modest person. Nothing gave him more professional satisfaction than witnessing the success of his students and colleagues. A generation of young vascular surgeons and investigators consider Alec their role model as a leader who inspired with his intellect and with the warmth of his friendship and collegiality. He considered his greatest achievements to be the care he gave his patients and his mentoring of young physicians.

As a long-time member of the Board of Trustees of the Seattle Symphony, Alec was particularly proud to have been involved in the building of Benaroya Hall and, more recently, the recruitment of the Symphony’s new music director, Ludovic Morlot.   Alec, who considered music essential to life, contributed his energy to furthering music education in under-served schools through The Clowes Fund of which he was president for 15 years.

Alec and Susan Detweiler found great happiness together in their marriage in 2000 after Alec was widowed in 1998 (Monika Clowes). Alec delighted in the family life that he shared with Susan’s children, Aaron and Amanda, as he experienced their college and graduate school years, family vacations and, later, their marriages.   Of becoming a grandfather to Aaron’s daughters, Charlotte and Claire, and Amanda’s daughter, Alice, he said, it was “the joy of my life.”

As president of The Clowes Fund, Alec integrated the fourth generation of Clowes into the Fund and provided leadership for his family’s collaboration in philanthropy in Seattle, Indiana and New England. He also wrote a biography (forthcoming 2016, Indiana University Press) of his grandfather, George Henry Alexander Clowes, who established the Fund.

Alec is survived by his wife, Susan Detweiler, her children Aaron Patterson (Erin) and Amanda Lovelace (Blake), and granddaughters Charlotte, Claire, and Alice; by his mother Margaret Jackson Clowes; by his sisters Margaret Bowles (Frank) and Edith Clowes (Craig Huneke), and his brother Jonathan Clowes (Evelyn); and by ten nieces and nephews. Alec’s brother Thomas Clowes (Markie) died in 2010.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alexander W. Clowes Endowed Chair at the University of Washington, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, or a charity of your choice.

A memorial celebration of Alec’s life will be held Tuesday, July 28, at 4:30 P.M. at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, Seattle. A second service will be held in Woods Hole on October 3 at 5:00 P.M. at the Church of the Messiah.