Helen Rounds Rowan

Fri, 11/29/2013 - 3:00pm

Helen Rounds Rowan, a longtime summer resident of Block Island and the wife of author/journalist Roy Rowan, died in her home in Greenwich, Conn., on Nov. 19. She was 91.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on Nov. 5, 1922, she attended Olivet, a small liberal arts college in Michigan, where she majored in painting and sculpture. Hired by Life magazine as a picture editor in 1947, she met Roy Rowan, who was on home leave from covering the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War.

Before their romance could blossom, he was sent off to cover the Cold War in Europe. After proposing by transatlantic telephone, Roy convinced her to fly to Germany where they were married in Frankfurt on May 19, 1952. Last year, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with a party in Greenwich for 100 friends. Roy wrote and produced a 50 page illustrated book about Helen’s life as a souvenir for guests to take home.

In 1955, the Rowans were transferred to Chicago where Roy was named bureau chief, responsible for Time’s and Life’s Midwestern coverage. Helen discovered that as the first lady of the bureau, so to speak, she was expected to do a lot of entertaining of editors visiting from New York City. And worse yet, hand-holding of the wives whose husbands were off covering race riots, tornadoes, floods, or murders.

The family was transferred back to New York in 1959 when Roy was promoted to Assistant Managing Editor of Life. It was then that they first moved to Greenwich. That same year Helen sat home a little nervously while Roy travelled the U.S. with Jimmy Hoffa to write a series of articles about the Teamsters boss and his gangster cronies. When Rowan confronted him with a copy of the magazine, Jimmy looked up and said: “I’ve got a gun in this drawer. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to use it.” Rowan said he never was sure what Jimmy meant.

The Rowans stayed put in Greenwich until 1972 when Roy was appointed Time’s Hong Kong Bureau Chief, a roving reporter’s job covering China, Vietnam, and the other Southeast Asian countries. One time he was away for so long that Helen hopped a plane and paid a surprise visit to her husband in Saigon just a few weeks before the city fell to the Communists in 1975.

Returning to the U.S via the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1977, Helen and her family made sightseeing stops in several Soviet cities before moving back into their home in Greenwich. Roy settled down as a senior writer for Fortune magazine, involving many return trips to Asia, and writing such controversial articles as “The 50 Top Mafia Bosses in America,” while Helen studied the Art of the Painted Finish, the Renaissance way of making wood look like it was made of minerals, inlaid ivory or gold, at The Isabel O’Neil Studio Workshop in New York City.

Helen became so expert that some of her creations were auctioned at Sotheby’s or exhibited at Tiffany & Co. For several years she also taught techniques in various finishes.

In 1981, the Rowans bought Dr. Cornbrook’s house on Corn Neck Road overlooking Sachem Pond and the north lighthouse. During subsequent summers, Roy wrote two books about Block Island: “Surfcaster’s Quest,” and “Solomon Starbucks Striper,” a novel about a striped bass.

Helen leaves behind her husband, Roy, of Greenwich; four sons, Dana Rowan of Boston, Douglas Rowan of Oxnard, Calif., Nicholas Rowan of New York City, and Marcus Rowan of Dallas; a daughter-in-law, Janice Kelley-Rowan of Boston, and one grandson, William Roy Rowan of Boston.

Recently Helen was honored by her youngest son Marcus who created The Helen Rowan Endowed Scholarship for the Arts at his alma mater, Hartwick College, in Oneonta, NY 13820. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the fund.