Jib Fowles, 79, professor emeritus of media studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, died on March 7, 2020.
Born Robert Briggs Fowles in 1940, he was given the family nickname “Jib” as an infant, and used that name all his life, both personally and professionally.
The son of Lloyd Wright Fowles and Jane Briggs Fowles, Jib grew up on the campus of the Loomis School in Windsor, Connecticut, where his father was the head of this preparatory school’s history department. Jib often mentioned what a rich, instructive setting Loomis was for a young person. Following his graduation from Loomis, he attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, receiving his B.A. in 1963.
After a Fulbright fellowship year in India, Jib lived in New York City, where he earned his M.A. from Teachers College (Columbia University) and his Ph.D. at New York University. He taught at New York University from 1967 to 1974.
In 1974 he was hired to be a charter faculty member at the new Clear Lake City campus of the University of Houston. Jib thought highly of Houston and of the University of Houston-Clear Lake, where he was to happily spend the rest of his career. Joy Castronovo, whom he had met at New York University, joined him in Texas in 1975, when they married and established their longtime home on Dickinson Bayou.
In time Jib became the faculty convener of the UHCL communications program. As well as teaching courses on the modern mass media and on the history of communications, he oversaw the internship portion of this program, and took great satisfaction in the professional achievements of his many media students. One former student, the renowned novelist Kevin Kwan, said about Jib, “He was an amazing philosophical genius on the topic of mass media in society.”
Jib was a committed scholar, publishing seven books and some 70 articles. His articles appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, TV Guide, Advertising Age, and many academic journals. His books include “Television Viewers vs. Media Snobs” (Stein & Day, 1982), “Starstruck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public” (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), and “The Case for Television Violence” (Sage, 1999). In 1984 he was a witness at U.S. Senate hearings on media violence, where he testified that children use their televised fantasy mayhem much as adults do—to relax and recover.
An avid researcher all his life, he was a man whose education was never-ending. As well as his academic pursuits, he was devoted to his family and their well-being. He was delighted and proud when first their daughter Celeste and then their son Nate also chose to attend Wesleyan University. Jib leaves behind his deeply adored wife Joy, their son Nathaniel Castronovo Fowles of Dickinson, Texas, and their daughter Celeste Fowles Nguyen and her husband Viet H. Nguyen of Burlingame, California, together with Celeste and Viet’s daughters, Marion and Rose—Jib’s grandchildren.
Jib was buried July 24 in Greenlawn Cemetery, Wiscasset, Maine—the town where he and Joy have had a summer home for many decades, in the area where his father’s family settled in the 1750s. In his retirement Jib was an inaugural and active commissioner on Wiscasset’s Historic Preservation Commission. He was a proud, 35-year member of the First Congregational Church of Wiscasset. He and Joy were for many years docents at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in nearby Boothbay. For several years Jib taught courses on the social history of photography at the Midcoast Senior College in Brunswick, Maine and at the Coastal Senior College in Damariscotta, Maine. At the time of his death he was completing a book on the social history of photographic imagery.
At Jib’s request, there will be no funeral.