Fran Rowan, who spent a lifetime selflessly helping the people of East Boston with kindness and charity, has died.
Rowan, a local legend who possessed the uncanny ability to make most people around her believe in the causes she was fighting for because those causes were simply the right thing to do, died on Thursday, September 3 following a long illness. She was 79 years old.
“I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Fran Rowan,” said longtime friend and collaborator City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “She was a huge advocate for East Boston and worked tirelessly for the betterment of our community, particularly with her work at the Meridian House. I was privileged to have known her throughout my life. Fran was also a huge fan of the Grateful Dead, like myself, so we shared an even deeper connection because of that. East Boston is a better neighborhood today because of Fran Rowan. She has left her mark on the community and will be sorely missed”.
Over the years Rowan was the master of convincing the community that it needed to rally around something because it was right, it was good, that it made sense and would help people and save lives.
Whether it was co-founding the Meridian House, a widely successful drug abuse treatment center or the Atlantic Works Artist Building on Border Street or the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center Rowan could make the hardest skeptics believers.
“Fran (Rowan) was one of the community members who through her activism, intelligence and passion for east boston started the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center way back in the late 60’s and over the years was always here for East Boston. We were also fortunate that she shared her love of art with many in our community and she touched the lives of many. We will miss her greatly,” said Steven Snyder Vice President EBNHC.
In 2013 Rowan was honored at the Don Orione Nursing Home for her lifetime of service to the community. In return, Rowan, as she always did in an act of selfless gratitude, launched an art project at the Don Orione.
Rowan, who suffered a minor stroke in July of that year, had been at the Don Orione recuperating. While there she noticed something needed to be done with the bare walls inside the home to make it more warm and welcoming.
Rowan was never been the type to sit around and complain waiting for someone else to do something.
So Rowan did what she has always done when she gets her mind set on accomplishing something. She rolled up her sleeves, rounded up supporters, got donations from friends and began a project to have the Don Orione’s walls adorned with original works of art by local artists.
Fran’s Wall of Hope opened that year and is an ongoing project to fill the Don Orione with art.
Rowan donated the first 7 photos, paintings and prints from her personal collection and hopes others in the community will do the same.
“I want to thank the housekeeping, aides, nurses and social workers here for their kindness and attention during my recovery and also for their support and guidance,” said Rowan at the time. “This exhibit was born the last time I was here and I want to thank those who have helped make it a reality and my sons for their patience with me with this idea. Fran’s Wall of Hope is a dream come true and I welcome other artist of the community to add to exhibit as a sign of peace and hope for all. God gives us art creativity to share with world let us inspire the seniors with our special gift.”
“Fran (Rowan) was a titan of community activism leaving an indelible mark on East Boston,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “Whether it was advocating for youth, the arts, or those in need, Fran touched the lives of countless residents. Not only was she a tireless advocate, she was known for her compassion and loyalty. She was a mover and a shaker and is sorely missed by all.”
A steward of the arts in Eastie, Rowan founded the Atlantic Works Artist Building at 80 Border Street that blossomed into a thriving artist’s lofts that host community events throughout the year.
She was also one of the first supporters in the neighborhood to champion what was at the time a relatively new and unknown music and performing arts program. Rowan soon joined the board of Zumix and helped shape its early formation.
“Fran Rowan was one of the first people we met when we moved to East Boston,” said Zumix’s Founder and Executive Director Madeleine Steczynski. “She was a community activist, an advocate for the arts, and a champion for underserved youth – particularly those who struggled. She joined our fledgling organization as a member of our first Board of Directors. She helped connect Zumix with institutions and leaders in the neighborhood, and taught us to believe in ourselves. We owe so much to this wonderful woman, and we will miss her dearly. But her spirit carries on in every note played, every song su
ng, and every scale learned by young musicians at Zumix.”
Petruccelli added that, “Fran Rowan dedicated her life to the people in the community that were traditional overlooked and underserved. Her impact on our community is something we should all strive to accomplish.”
There is one thing that Rowan will be remembered for and was something she said in every corner of the neighborhood to all who listened.
“She taught us it doesn’t take much to be nice,” said her son Danny Rowan. “If everyone gave a little more than they took we’d all be okay.”