It would be a bit of an understatement to say Alexandria Russell Bowen led a rich and full life.
Known as Andy, Bowen canoed the Yukon and Zambezi rivers, sailed the Alaskan Inland waterway, rafted on the Colorado River, took nine camera safaris to Africa, hiked in Great Britain, Ireland and France, singing (literally) all along, painting watercolors, snapping photos and writing books.
“She was,” her daughter Sarah recalled, “fiercely independent.”
Bowen, 80, of Oak Park Heights, died Sept. 9 of Alexander disease, a rare disorder of the nervous system.
Born and reared in St. Paul, Bowen graduated from the Summit School (now St. Paul Academy), and then headed east to attend Wellesley College. She majored in music, playing violin and piano — a passion she enjoyed throughout her life, performing with various string quartets for fun.
Bowen also loved choral music, singing in the King’s College Choir in Cambridge, England, as well as with the Bach Society of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chorale. She was a member of madrigal groups in Minnesota and Michigan.
“She had a very nice voice,” noted her husband, Robert, of Oak Park Heights.
Bowen earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan, later writing five children’s books, including one on explorers Lewis and Clark and another on the pioneering pilot Beryl Markham.
Her career was rich and varied — she took on jobs that would expand her mind, including working for a paleoentomologist, and in Harvard University’s admissions office. She worked for more than a year in a hospital records department in England. And she served a stint as the managing editor of the magazine Behavioral Science.
Her first date with Robert Bowen, later her husband, took place at a party. “We sat off in a corner, interviewing each other,” he recalled. “It was very rude of us; we ignored everyone else.” After a brisk, three-month courtship, they married. “I thought, if we got married by the end of the year, we could file a joint tax return,” he joked.
Robert Bowen loved his late wife’s sly sense of humor and sweetness. They were married for 48 years, spending much of it at their Kenwood home in Minneapolis, with summers on the St. Croix. Three years ago, the couple moved to Boutwells Landing, a retirement community.
Their daughter attended the Children’s Theatre school in Minneapolis. When it closed, Andy Bowen and others decided to start their own arts-oriented school, called the Minnesota Conservatory of Performing Arts.
But Bowen mostly loved adventure, and would occasionally travel alone. “She sure loved Africa,” Sarah Bowen said. “I think it was the animals, she photographed them like mad. She had a strong, independent way of being in the world.
“She was stubborn in a really wonderful way,” her daughter added. “She knew what she wanted and nobody could push her around and tell her what to do.”
Her creativity extended to the kitchen, too, where she would often improvise without the confines of a recipe, and with terrific results. “She was a fantastic cook,” her daughter said.
Growing up, there was very little television in the Bowen household.
“We were at the cabin in the summers, we painted, made things out of clay, played cards, it was a very creative kind of play,” Sarah Bowen said.
Bowen was preceded in death by a daughter, Hilary, a brother, Edgar Russell Jr., and sisters, Margaret Russell and Marcia Berkley.
Services have been held.