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HomeNewsArchivesBUSINESSMAN AND ACTIVIST WILLIAM DOWLING DIES

BUSINESSMAN AND ACTIVIST WILLIAM DOWLING DIES

Oct. 3, 2003 – William C. Dowling Jr., who helped pioneer the development of St. Thomas as a tourism attraction, whose business career on the island as a hotelier and jewelry business owner spanned half a century, and whose philanthropy touched the lives of many, died on Friday.
The Cardow Jewelers shops were closed in mid-afternoon after word was received of his death in New York City, where he had been undergoing treatment for skin cancer.
The stores will remain closed on Saturday and Sunday, Cardow director William Christie said, and will reopen on Monday. They will be closed again for Dowling's funeral next Friday afternoon at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral.
There will be a traditional funeral procession down Main Street, Christie said.
The V.I. Army National Guard Band will lead the procession, which will move westward from Post Office Square at 12:30 p.m. At the cathedral, organist Albert Lynch will present a half hour of classical music beginning at 1 p.m., and the funeral mass will begin at 1:30 p.m.
There will be no viewing, and Dowling's body will be returned to New York for burial.
Bill Dowling was a study in personal values. He was a jewelry store owner whose only jewelry was his Massachusetts Institute of Technology class ring and an unpretentious wrist watch; a successful hotelier whose main residence was a room on one of his properties; and an engineer by training who in the computer era employed a string and a level to lay out the entrance to his second resort.
"Taste, attention to detail and hands-on involvement have been hallmarks of William C. Dowling Jr.'s approach to business, philanthropy, art and life in his 40 years on St. Thomas," a biographical article published in 1994 stated. The article appeared in the program booklet for the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce Community Service Awards banquet which that year honored Dowling and longtime Delegate Ron de Lugo.
He acknowledged in that article that engineering didn't interest him as a career. "I like more artistic things," he said. "I really wanted to be an architect."
As a world traveler, he pursued his passion for collecting art objects — and put many of them on display in the flagship Cardow shop on Main Street for shoppers to enjoy.
Dowling grew up in New York and nearby Long Island. After graduating from MIT at the age of 18, he joined the Air Force, receiving a Victory Medal in World War II.
In 1952, his parents visited St. Thomas on a cruise and his father decided to invest in some property. Curiosity led Dowling to come check the island out, and he immediately decided to stay. He purchased what was then the Caribbean Hotel, built in 1940 as a naval hospital. It was closed at the time, and there were only three other tourist accommodations on the island — the Grand Hotel, Bluebeard's Castle and the Virgin Isle Hotel.
He renamed the 36-room property the Carib Beach and reopened it in 1955. As the first hotel to offer steelpan music and limbo dancing, it became the "in" place to party for visitors and residents alike. To accommodate an overflow of guests, the staff would string up sheets and set up extra beds in what had once been the hospital ward.
Early guests, Dowling related, included Liberace, who arrived unannounced and stayed for three weeks "charming the guests and the staff." Royalty and military heroes from Europe "stayed in the sheets" of the partitioned ward and loved it. Author Herman Wouk, living on St. Thomas then, spent endless hours quizzing Dowling about what went on at the hotel. After reading "Don't Stop the Carnival!" Dowling concluded that Wouk "got a lot of script out of me."
In 1962, Dowling formed a partnership with Claude Caron to open a perfume, gift and jewelry store in the building just west of the Emancipation Garden Post Office that then housed liquor and hardware stores. Caron was already operating a gift shop at the other end of downtown that catered to tourists. The name "Cardow" took the "Car" from Caron and the "Dow" from Dowling.
When Caron withdrew from the joint enterprise, Dowling decided to focus on jewelry. In the 1994 article, he said: "We call ourselves the largest jewelry store in the world, and so far, nobody has contested that. It's a lot more than Tiffany's, that's sure."
In 1970, he expanded the Carib Beach to 96 rooms, and in 1988, he broke ground at the other end of Lindbergh Bay for the 90-room Emerald Beach Resort. The new hotel had been on the drawing board for years, awaiting finalization of plans to expand Harry S Truman Airport. In 1974, he said, Gov. Cyril E. King thwarted efforts to build a runway across the mouth of Lindbergh Bay.
Dowling, known as "Mr. D." to generations of employees, owned a home in Fortuna "that I visit on Sunday," he said in 1994, but he otherwise stayed on property at the Carib Beach Resort.
Through his businesses, Dowling became a philanthropist as well. In the '80s Cardow established and endowed a boys' residence and a vocational training center in India, and then a facility serving persons with leprosy. It later began funding a vocational training facility for women in India named for his mother, Marion Dowling.
Locally, Cardow has long awarded four University of the Virgin Islands scholarships annually. Last spring, in partnership with the School of Visual Arts and Careers, a local high school art enrichment program, Cardow established the Jens-Peter Kemmler Foundation in honor of Kemmler, a noted artist and longtime employee of the company who died last November.
Dowling was actively involved over the years with the V.I .Tourism Commission, Partners for Health, the then-St. Thomas Hospital, Bethlehem House, the V.I. Tourism Awareness and Advancement Link, the Boy Scouts and the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel Association. A believer and a practitioner in partnering between business and government, he lobbied in the '80s for passage of "Bill 0411," which granted duty-free entry of luxury goods to give the territory a competitive edge over other Caribbean shopping destinations. He was recognized by the 17th Legislature for his community service.
"His kindness and compassion will be remembered by all; his vision, by those who came after him — and most of them came after him," Cardow marketing staff member Jane DiCola said.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in extending public condolence on Thursday afternoon called Dowling "a generous and kind individual." His "warm personality and generosity are known to the people of the Virgin Islands, as he would venture above the call of duty to contribute to causes that enhanced the education of our young people," the governor said.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards hailed him as a "great philanthropist and hallmark of the retail industry" and "a consummate businessman." "I will remember with fondness his willingness to open his heart and pockets to underwrite worthy causes on behalf of our youth and the needy," Richards said.
Former senator Elmo D. Roebuck remembered Dowling as "a master player in the political and economic lives of the people of the Virgin Islands" who "endeared himself with every political figure over the years" as "he made his position on issues known to them in his quiet and persuasive way." Roebuck paid tribute to him for his role "in improving the living conditions and livelihoods of thousands of residents locally and from the Eastern Caribbean who were fortunate to come under his employ."
In the 1994 article, Dowling said he couldn't think "of any other place I'd want to live" than St. Thomas. And while his age and economic standing would allow him to do otherwise, "I'd like to keep involved in business, in future projects. I wouldn't like to retire."
It was a desire that he saw fulfilled.

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