Return to Home 
Research Center Directory 




Robert Merle 'Bob' Cowan

Robert Merle Cowan, prominent Kenai Attorney and President for Life of the Kenai Bar Association, passed away peacefully at 2:00 AM Sunday Nov. 23rd at Providence Hospital in Anchorage. He was 61.

Bob was born January 10, 1942 in Prairie Grove Arkansas, son of Merle Cruz and Oleta Lewis. His natural father died at the age of 45 from bladder cancer when Bob was just four years old. The following year, he and his mother traveled cross-country to Washington State where she began work at the Hanford Atomic Energy project. There she remarried an old friend from her hometown of Tahlequah Okalahoma who was also widowed, Leslie A. Cowan. Leslie promptly adopted Bob, thus Bobby, as was called through high school, was always known as Bob Cowan.

When Bob was 11 a surprising occurrence delighted Bob - his family had another child. One which, as he put it, "would take the heat off me". The eleven-year age difference, and death of Leslie Cowan in 1980, gave their relationship elements of not only close brother sister, but also father daughter.

Bob completed primary and secondary school in Richland, singing in choir until his voice changed, playing football, bird hunting, and his favorite - target practice at the bombing range. He attended Washington State University for a year, and then transferred to the warmth of San Diego at San Diego State University where he joined the Sigma Chi fraternity. As was characteristic of Bob throughout his life, he forged and retained close friendships from high school and among his fraternity bothers. Bob obtained a Bachelor's in Economics from San Diego State University and was completing his Master's there when he decided to attend law school. He graduated from the University of San Diego Law School in 1971.

In 1974 Bob went to Ketchikan, Alaska to work in the Public Defender's Office. He promptly established a reputation as a character, even by Alaskan standards. In 1975 he opened up the Kenai Peninsula Public Defender's Office. It was there that he met his lifelong friend Bob Kentzel, an association resulting in several new chapters to the many flamboyant personal and professional stories that surrounded his life. At virtually every legal and drinking bar in Alaska, a story of Bob Cowan can be found.

While still at the Public Defender's office, former Alaskan Public Defenders Chief Herb Soll brought Bob out to Saipan, Commonwealth of the Marinas Islands to assist with a murder case. Bob soon got involved with other cases throughout Micronesia and was sworn into the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands High Court, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Court. Again, he forged close friendships and served as a mentor for several young men pursuing legal careers; taking one to Papua New Guinea to begin law school. In 1980 he got involved in joint venture involving several nationally prominent attorneys, including former ATLA President Richard F. Gerry, of counsel to his Kenai practice, in representing Marshall Islanders affected by the U.S. atomic testing done in the Marshall Islands following WW II. His work on the Marshall Islands Atomic Litigation Project caused him to frequently flying out to remote Pacific Islands, and from there at times take field trip ships to atolls even more remote.

As a result, Bob was no stranger to the geography and customs of Micronesia when he stood as father for his sister's marriage in Palau in 1984. One of his long time associates from Palau remained as of counsel to his practice until his death.

In 1979 Bob left the Public Defenders office and immediately went into private practice with one of the many wild criminal defense cases that marked his legal career. Over time, his criminal defense practice gravitated toward serious personal injury and he was, again, involved in many high profile cases.

Somewhere in college Bob had concluded that bladder cancer was hereditary, thus he would have no children and probably never marry - unless he happened to live to 50 or so, which he thought unlikely, and then only to some nice quiet woman who would stay out of his way. That was not to come to pass. On Dec 31, 1987, in a ceremony at the Captain Cook all who attended will remember, he married Jan Aaronson. She was able to tolerate his eccentricities and he grew to love her deeply.

Jan's sudden death to brain cancer in 1999 was devastating to Bob. He remained close to her four grown children and grandchildren, all of whom live in Kenai. It was at the time of Jan's death that Bob learned he had hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition that is frequently associated with primary liver cancer.

In Bob's thirty years in Kenai he was not only instrumental in establishing a local bar association offering continuing education, but in setting up a Youth Court and numerous other community service projects.

Bob is survived by his beloved Mother, Oleta Lewis Cowan of Richland, WA; his sister Suzanne Cowan Dimeff (of counsel with his law firm as Suzanne C. Etpison) and her two sons, nephews Tao Etpison and Trace Dimeff, of Encinitas, CA; his uncle Robert Lewis of Kennewick, WA; and several first cousins in Washington State.

Robert M. Cowan donated his organs to scientific research and chose to be cremated. Arrangements were made through Peninsula Memorial Chapel. Alternatively, and especially for Bob's many "Bomber" classmate friends and fraternity brothers, memorial donations may be made to Richland Department of Parks for a memorial bench and plaque along the Columbia River Walk. Checks should be made out to "City of Richland-Cowan Memorial" and mailed to attention Dave Bryant, Dept. of Parks, P.O. Box 190, MS 13, Richland, WA 99352.





ęCopyright 2015 Alaska Trails to the Past All Rights Reserved
For more information contact the Webmistress