Linda Stowell, a veteran news and business executive for The Associated Press who took up distance running in defiance of her cancer diagnosis and wrote poignantly and powerfully about her long battle with the disease, has died. She was 55.
Stowell died Saturday in Philadelphia of complications arising from cancer, said her sister, Sue Bradley.
Stowell's AP career spanned more than a quarter-century and took her from reporter and editor to regional vice president in charge of the AP's newspaper member relationships in the eastern half of the United States. Based in Philadelphia, she did significant work on the news cooperative's services and products, and supervised bureau chiefs across the region.
Stowell was an "effective business representative and passionate ambassador" who mentored dozens of AP employees and cared deeply about journalism, said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer, and Sue Cross, senior vice president for business development and partner relations for the Americas, in a note to staff Monday.
"She took her work with member newspapers personally," Curley and Cross wrote. "Editors and publishers who met with Linda came away feeling they had an advocate, someone who would do everything she possibly could to make sure their needs were met. And she did — she was a tireless and powerful voice for newspapers and the news industry."
Stowell was chief of bureau in Philadelphia from 1997 to 2003, and before that served as bureau chief for Maryland/Delaware and Virginia. She joined the AP in Hartford, Conn., in 1985 and was promoted to correspondent in Stamford, Conn., a year later, interviewing Paul Newman and covering a building collapse in Bridgeport that killed 28. In 1988, she was appointed news editor in Richmond, Va.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Stowell was a graduate of Mount Union College in Ohio and worked for The Repository of Canton, Ohio, and The Arizona Republic in Phoenix before coming to work for the AP.
As Philadelphia bureau chief, Stowell forged strong ties between the cooperative and dozens of Pennsylvania member newspapers with widely divergent needs and interests, said Bob Heisse, executive editor of the Centre Daily Times in State College and president of Associated Press Media Editors, a national organization of newspaper and broadcast editors.
"She was a champion for what we do, and she really grew this great relationship that we have in Pennsylvania between the papers and the AP," he said.
Stowell helped arrange AP's coverage of the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and relished the challenge of election night, when she was responsible for calling races.
Stowell, who lived in Narberth, Pa., was just as passionate about her outside interests, especially tennis, playing often and following the men's and women's tours. Her AP office in Philadelphia was adorned with framed photos of past and present tennis stars, and she named her beloved cats "Roger Federer" and "Rafa Nadal."
She also loved clothes and shopping, cultivating a distinctive style well-known to friends, family and colleagues. In the emergency room less than a week before she died, Stowell contacted her personal shopper at Nordstrom department store — and ordered a jacket for herself.
"The key is she did it her way," her sister said.
Stowell's approach to serious illness was no different.
In the fall of 2008, she wrote about her decision to begin running — ignoring her oncologist's advice — after learning she had not one but two forms of the disease, melanoma and thyroid cancer. She worked her way up from 5Ks to 10Ks to half-marathons, training religiously while listening to the "Rocky" theme song, "Gonna Fly Now," on her iPod.
"I was running to prove that I could, to show that I was not defined by the clusters of renegade cells that were growing within me," she wrote. "It had become what I do, how I fight back, how I shake my fist and press forward despite feeling like an unseen enemy is always following, always chasing."
Ted Anthony, an assistant managing editor at the AP's headquarters who worked with Stowell on the piece, said she was initially reluctant to write about herself, wondering whether her story was worth telling and uncomfortable with telling it in the first person. Anthony pressed her to be more intimate and personal. "Finally one day she called me and said, 'You're right. I'm resisting my own story,'" Anthony recalled.
What emerged was an extraordinary 2,000-word account that revealed Stowell's trademark spirit and determination. The story attracted a strong reader response, with people from all over writing to her, Anthony said.
Yet Stowell also refused to be defined by her cancer, keeping many of the details private and working through her illness.
"Linda had and shared an enormous love of life and sense of fun," Curley wrote. "She lived large, and we will remember her that way."
In addition to her sister, Stowell is survived by her parents, Robert and Marion Stowell; her brother, Dr. Bruce Stowell; and nieces and nephews Megan Bradley, Michael Bradley, Alex Stowell, Jessica Arvesen, Amy Ponder and Erin Brower.
A celebration of Stowell's life will be held later.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Stowell's name to Lankenau Medical Center Foundation, Medical Office Building East, Suite 5050, 100 East Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood, PA 19096.