El Camino photography professor Darilyn Rowan honored at memorial service

Friends+and+family+members+of+El+Camino+College+photography+professor+Darilyn+Rowan%2C+66%2C+gather+outside+the+Peninsula+Community+Church+in+Rancho+Palos+Verdes+during+a+memorial+honoring+her+life+on+Sunday%2C+Nov.+14.+Rowan+died+on+Oct.+19+from+causes+unknown.+Photo+by+Jose+Tobar%2FThe+Union

Friends and family members of El Camino College photography professor Darilyn Rowan, 66, gather outside the Peninsula Community Church in Rancho Palos Verdes during a memorial honoring her life on Sunday, Nov. 14. Rowan died on Oct. 19 from causes unknown. Photo by Jose Tobar/The Union

Friends, family and colleagues of El Camino College photography professor Darilyn Rowan gathered Nov. 14 at Peninsula Community Church in Rancho Palos Verdes to honor her life.

Rowan died of unknown causes on Oct. 19 at the age of 66. L.A. Coroner’s Office Chief of Operations Brian Elias could not release any further information but added it is not being investigated as “suspicious death.”

Over 32 years, Rowan built and coordinated the El Camino College (ECC) photography department as its only full-time instructor. She established and protected the school’s dark rooms, worked with the professional photography industry to donate equipment and share their experience as guest speakers.

Rowan created a certification program in photography and worked with ECC’s journalism program to develop a certification and associate’s degree in photojournalism. Rowan also mentored community photographers at the South Bay Camera Club and has had her own work on display in exhibitions, galleries and museums around the world.

Stories shared by several people at the memorial described Rowan as brilliant, compassionate, uncompromising in her beliefs, hilarious, in love with teaching and committed to her students.

The memorial included several performances by the Joanna Medawar Nachef Singers, a choir made up of former ECC students and directed by Nachef, as well as a performance by ECC guitar professor Jonathan Minei.

“She [Rowan] didn’t just teach photography, she taught all of us to live well, deeply, with passion and compassion,” Event Specialist at ECC’s Center for the Arts, Georgi Levine said. “She had a light about her, and all she did was share it.”

Assistant Dean of Fine Arts Walter Cox said during the memorial that he first met Rowan when he was an ECC student in 1996. Eleven years later he began working with her as a faculty member.

“She [Rowan] loved photography and she loved the photography program at ECC. But her number one love was for her students and they loved her back,” Cox said.

Rowan regularly organized student photography exhibitions and installations, and supported students to produce three core components of the photography field, “contemporary art photography, photojournalism essays and documentary photographs,” according to Rowan’s Linkedin page. Student work was often published in magazines, student newspapers, and recognized in national competitions.

Throughout the memorial, Rowan was described as a person who took courageous action when she witnessed something unjust or saw someone who was suffering.

“When I was in the first grade and my sister was in the eighth, I had to wear big, heavy orthopedic shoes to school,” Rowan’s brother said. The Union was unable to confirm her brother’s name despite repeated attempts to reach family, friends and colleagues.

Every day, Rowan hid her little brother’s sneakers in her backpack and once they were beyond the eye of their mother, Rowan would swap his shoes, enabling him to wear his sneakers while she carried the heavier shoes around all day until they were nearly home, he said.

“That seed of empathy grew into a forest.” Rowan’s brother added.

More than one speaker described Rowan as a “force of nature” who battled bureaucracy and budget barriers to promote and protect the arts programs at ECC.

“Darilyn was the heart of the Arts Division,” ECC Music Professor Joanna Nachef said. “We are here because she built the photography program, but also loved and fought for all the arts at ECC.”

When Nachef was about to travel with a group of students to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall, there wasn’t enough money for a hotel on the first night. Nachef told the students they would be sleeping overnight at the train station on the east side of midtown Manhattan until they could check into their rooms the next day.

Nachef said Rowan marched furiously into then ECC President Thomas Fallo’s office and pressed the administration. “Dr. Fallo, do you want your students to stay overnight in Grand Central Station?” she asked him. Between ECC and a personal appeal to friends, Rowan raised the $3,000 needed for the extra night’s hotel stay.

Levine said she also relied on Rowan to support her with difficult issues on campus. Whenever she was feeling overwhelmed, Rowan would help her find the clarity and calm needed to find a solution. “If you don’t see blood,” Rowan would tell Levine, “it’s not an emergency.”

As an administrator, Cox said he also experienced Rowan’s “wrath” more than once when she disagreed with college officials. “If you got on her bad side,” Cox said, “like any category five hurricane, you just had to settle in until the storm passed.”

However Cox also said Rowan was one of the “most loyal and generous people” he had ever known.

“Once she let you in, you could do no wrong,” Cox said.

Several stories from the attendees described Rowan as a friend and colleague who was intensely loyal, generous and attentive.

Elizabeth Adamis, assistant dance professor at ECC and a close friend of Rowan’s for eight years, described Rowan as her “soul sister.” She said that because Rowan had experienced the death of her own husband, she was able to help Adamis and her daughter heal after the loss of Adamis’ own husband.

“She was a person who felt deeply; had great joys but had also suffered great losses,” Adamis said.

In addition to the death of her husband, Adamis said Rowan had also experienced the recent death of her father and survived breast cancer and that going through such traumatic experiences made Rowan particularly empathetic and supportive of other faculty, staff and students.

At the end of the memorial, Nachef shared a quote from the Bible in Revelation 21:4: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

Nachef then said that she and Rowan shared a deep faith in God. “I would sometimes complain that I couldn’t take something anymore, or make something happen at ECC, and Darilyn would say, ‘Joanna, God is signing our checks!’”

The room broke out in loud laughter.

“My beautiful sister was prematurely taken from all of us,” Rowan’s brother said. “Maybe God needed a laugh. Maybe her kindness was needed elsewhere.”