Doctor known for generosity, compassion

Scott Swanson

They remember Dr. Dowling for many things and for two things: his letterman’s jacket and his love for Sweet Home High School football.

“He always wore a letterman’s jacket,” said Larry Johnson, former SHHS athletic director and coach.

“I just remember him being on the sideline with his letterman’s jacket,” said current Football Coach Dustin Nichol, who was a state defensive Player of the Year during his career. “He was a permanent fixture around the football field.”

“He loved that letterman’s jacket,” said retired football coach Rob Younger.

They all remember a tall, kindly man who sometimes came across a bit awkwardly but as a longtime local physician helped many in need – women who’d lost their husbands, kids who couldn’t afford a physical or a doctor if they got hurt on the athletic field.

“He was wonderful,” said Mona Waibel, who got to know Harold B. Dowling after her first husband died – when she was 20.

Dowling, 88, died Aug. 2.

Dowling was born in Seattle in 1923 to Harold Littlefield and Blanche (Bader) Dowling and educated in the Seattle school system.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as an electronics specialist aboard ship from 1943-1946 in the Pacific Theater.

Returning from the war, he completed his pre-med studies at the University of Washington before beginning medical school, playing basketball as a freshman.

“Compared to the abilities I see now, we were nothing,” he told The New Era in 2007, the year he was named Sweet Home’s Distinguished Citizen.

After graduation, he completed an internship at Indianapolis General Hospital and a general residency at Providence Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind., before moving to Oregon. He joined Dr. Robert Langmack in 1956, practicing family medicine in Sweet Home until 1971, when he moved his office to Lebanon. In 1994, he closed that office and worked in Lebanon and Brownsville until he retired in 1999.

“He was never my medical doctor. He was just a friend,” Waibel said. “He listened to you. He felt for you. He wasn’t like most doctors, where you’re just another person coming into the office. He made you feel like a real person.”

“He had the longest arms of anybody I ever knew. He just hugged, all the way around. He was a great hugger. He did that to hundreds of women. He helped me through the loss of my husband. It was just unbelieveable. I was only 20. He helped me through the shock.”

Dowling spent many years as the team physician for the Husky football program – no one seems quite sure exactly when he started.

“He was an institution when I got here in 1980,” Younger said.

Nichol remembers him as a “permanent fixture” on the sideline. Johnson said Dowling’s service lasted “like an eternity.”

“He was at every football game. If there was a kid who had a need for a physical or something, he would get him in.”

Waibel said the doctor was constantly helping youngsters.

“As far as I know, he was never paid a dime. If he had to take money out of his pocket, he didn’t hesitate. He did a lot for those kids.”

Younger said Dowling’s presence relieved a lot of concerns for the coaching staff.

“You didn’t have to wonder, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” he said.

Dowling’s interest in Sweet Home football extended long after his retirement from medicine, Johnson said. His service to the program was recognized by the Oregon School Activities Association, which presented him with a statewide distinguished service award.

“He was just a nice, gracious guy,” Johnson said.

Dowling stayed in Sweet Home because he loved it, he said in a 2007 interview. All of his six children – Catherine, Virginia, Harold, William, Robert and Patricia, graduated from Sweet Home.

“He was right there with them,” Waibel said of Dowling’s children. “He was a good dad and such a good husband. When his wife was really ill, he took care of her right up to the end.”