Friday, January 30, 2009


Ocracoke Island has lost another venerable native. Fowler O'Neal died at home on Tuesday. He was 87 years old.

Fowler was the quintessential islander, having worked on the water most of his adult life. He was a ferry captain when he retired. He sported numerous tattoos (no Celtic patterns or new age symbols for him), and his speech was peppered with colorful words and phrases. Fowler was a tinkerer. He owned several boats and could repair an outboard engine, lawnmower, or automobile transmission. He built his modest home on Fig Tree Lane when he married Chloe, and I'm sure he did all of the plumbing and electric work himself. I know he helped me when I was building Village Craftsmen in the early 1970s. In fact, I thought of him often as I was tearing down the chimney he and my father helped construct.

Fowler was a man who knew who he was. And he was totally without pretension. Although he was friends with politicians and off-island people with money and power, Fowler never pretended to be anyone other than himself. He was most comfortable in bare feet with his khaki trousers rolled up to his ankles, walking his dog, sitting on his outdoor swing with Chloe, or driving his rusted pickup truck through the village. Fowler had a fluid sense of time, and would stop to talk without a thought or worry about anything else. He read frequently and was incredibly smart, a man who knew more from experience than most of us will ever know from books. Above all, Fowler liked to laugh. He often got tickled telling me stories of his younger days on Ocracoke and Portsmouth Island. He especially enjoyed recounting antics and adventures he shared with my dad. Although Fowler hadn't taken a drink for decades, he loved to supervise our occasional brewing of traditional Ocracoke meal wine.

Fowler chose to spend his last days at home with his family. I'm sure he coudn't countenance the thought of being in an antiseptic hospital room surrounded by strangers.

Fowler O'Neal was an ambassador for old-time Ocracoke, a friend to all, and a model of self-assurance. He will be missed. Farewell neighbor!

A memorial service will be held on Monday, February 02, at 1 pm in the Methodist Church.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter provides more information about the majestic live oaks on Ocracoke Island. You can read it here.

To read about Philip's new book, Digging up Uncle Evans, History, Ghost Tales, & Stories from Ocracoke Island, please click here.


  1. Anonymous11:23 AM

    I am so glad that I had the great fortune to know Fowler. He had a wonderful Ocracoke wit about him and deeply loved his wife, Chloe. The world is a lonelier place without him. My best to his family.
    Lou Ann

  2. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Wasn't Fowler Joanie's dad? Hope his family is doing Ok...our condolences from Missouri.

  3. Anonymous1:32 PM

    Perhaps a visit to Down Point Decoys is in order. Was not this building taken apart, moved and reassembled on its present location with the help of Fowler O'Neal? Do you think Fowler was a member of the Green Island Duck Hunting Club? Do you have a photo of Mr. Fowler?

  4. Fowler & Chloe had three children, Bobby (who works for Tideland Electric Coop), Gloria (most folks know her as Sissie), & Joannie (who is a school principal in Alaska.

  5. So sorry to hear of Fowler's passing. Our sincerest symapthies to his family and friends. He sounded like a man that we would've had much pleasure in meeting. Thank you for sharing his memory with us from afar.

    Linda & Tom Borneman

  6. Anonymous3:09 PM

    another wonderful island character lost - Fowler positively affected so many folks in that most quintessential of manners that characterize that wonderful few most cherished Ocracoke generations .... through knowledge & experience of the environment, a love of life & people, a great listener, and the sweetest most understated sense of humor and infectious laugh and smile...

    Fowler, we will miss you...

    Warner P

  7. Re. Down Point Decoys, Green Island Club, and photos: If I remember correctly the Down Point Decoys building came from one of the hunting clubs "Down Below" (that's the area of the island from the edge of the village to Hatteras Inlet). It probably was part of the Green Island Club, and was moved soon after the National Park Service established the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Maybe one of our readers remembers if Fowler was a member of the Club. I wouldn't doubt it, and moving a building was certainly right up his alley.

    Look for three photos of Fowler in tomorrow's journal entry. He was a great guy, and missed by all.