Obituary: Sam Mowbray
Steadfast education advocate, CUSD board member, doting grandfather, loyal friend
Sam Mowbray, a kind, even-handed presence in Claremont public life for decades, has died. Mr. Mowbray died Thursday, July 19 at San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland after suffering a heart attack. He was 74 years old.
Mr. Mowbray was a longtime volunteer and educational advocate for Claremont students. He was one of the longest serving board members in the history of Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, serving four terms; was a founding member of ED Net, which became Claremont Educational Foundation; and was active with Claremont After School Programs (CLASP).
“Sam understood the importance of public service. In my opinion he was the model for the phrase, ‘service above self,’” said CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser. “He had an unending passion for making sure all students—and I emphasize all—had equitable access to a powerful education full of diverse opportunities and rich experiences, regardless of their background or their socioeconomic status. The conversations I had with Sam over the three and-a-half years that we worked together always challenged me and stretched my thinking. I am a better superintendent today because of those hours Sam and I spent together.”
Mr. Mowbray’s keen intellect and ability to advocate strongly for whatever cause he was championing was balanced by a heart that always sought the good in people, even those with whom he disagreed, his family shared.
“I think everyone would say my dad was respectful and appreciative of people,” his son Andrew said. “And if it was a tough issue he never degraded people. He was a great debater, but my dad never took it personally.”
Owen Keavney was a friend of Mr. Mowbray’s for 30 years.
“He did so many incredibly good things,” he said. “He was an incredible person. We talked about various things over the 30 years I knew him, and I don’t think we ever, ever agreed on anything. But Sam had something about him that that didn’t bother me at all. It kind of added to his charm.”
“I think that’s a good example he set, that we can debate and converse and disagree, but then at the end we can all be friends and have a beer together,” said his son Andrew.
Mr. Keavney’s wife Sue was also close to Mr. Mowbray. “He also was a great friend to Foothill Philharmonic.”
She and Mr. Mowbray wrote a grant to the Rotary Club of Claremont, which resulted in funding for the philharmonic’s various educational outreach programs throughout the city’s schools.
“He was a wonderful friend to all of us and a marvelous individual. And I personally and our group can never thank him enough.”
He was born September 6, 1943 in Blythe, California to Juanita and Martin Mowbray, the middle in a trio of boys that included older brother Phillip and younger sibling Cliff.
He married Barbara McLean in Boston on October 12, 1970, a union that would last nearly 48 years. The couple’s first son, Andrew, was born in 1976. Their second child, Justin, arrived in 1979.
In 1980, the family moved to Claremont. Andrew and Justin attended Claremont schools, both graduating from Claremont High.
Mr. Mowbray earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees in micro/molecular biology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He had academic appointments to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts; and to UCLA.
He spent the last portion of his professional life as laboratory manager for the Orange County Sanitation District, retiring in 2010. Prior to that he worked for 16 years as a research and development specialist by Johnson and Johnson, which then had an office in Claremont.
Along with his four terms on the CUSD board, from 1993 to 2005, then from 2011 to 2015, and his work with CLASP and CEF, Mr. Mowbray was also an active member of the Rotary Club of Claremont; a past member of the Kiwanis Club; a founding member and past president of Claremont Education Network Foundation; chairman of Claremont’s Fourth of July Parade in 1993; was a board member of the Greater Pomona Valley Housing Development Corporation; a board member of Los Angeles County School for the Arts; president of the Los Angeles County School Trustees Association; and a member of the Assembly of Delegates to the California School Board Association.
In retirement, the Mowbrays traveled in earnest, taking several trips to Europe. They enjoyed each other’s company, and usually visited New England twice per year.
Mr. Mowbray’s son Andrew said the outpouring of love and appreciation the family has received since his father’s death had helped them as they grieve. “It does. I know I’m going to have harder times down the road, but I think of all the texts and phone calls and emails actually do make it easier. You don’t want anyone to leave, but he did a lot for me and his family and himself and as a dad and a grandfather and husband.
“It’s hard to let someone go. I’m sure they’ll be those times when I’m looking for him and need to call him. Those will be the harder moments.”
Mr. Mowbray is survived by his wife Barbara; son Andrew Mowbray (Sheila) and their children Drew, Carson and Alexa; son Justin Mowbray; brothers Phillip Mowbray (Linda) and Cliff Mowbray (Carol); and brother-in-law Jim McLean (Pat).
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 18 in the Claremont High School gymnasium, 1601 N. Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont, with a reception to follow at Taylor Hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations be sent to the Claremont After School Program (CLASP) at clasp4kids.org/donate, or by check to CLASP, 1111 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont, CA 91711; or to Friends of Claremont Senior Foundation at ci.claremont.ca.us (search “donations and sponsorships”), or by check to Friends of Claremont Senior Foundation, Inc. to 660 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.