Bel Air resident Clifton M. “Clif” Dowling Jr., who died May 1 at age 72, lived his life straight out of the Baby Boom era into which he was born.
An Eagle Scout and Bel Air High School graduate, Mr. Dowling went off to Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa, on a scholarship to study international relations, then did a hitch in the Army at the height of the Vietnam War, before ending up at the University of California at Berkley, from which he graduated with a degree in conservation and natural resources.
Back home in Bel Air, he immersed himself in his home community, running as a independent for county executive in the county’s first home rule charter election held in 1972. Although he didn’t win, he certainly didn’t disgrace himself, either. Some of you reading this will be astonished to know that the Republican Party did not field a candidate for the top county elected post that first time around. Only Mr. Dowling, then 27, signed up to take on whoever won the three-way Democratic primary election, but he was no Don Quixote cum hippie liberal, just an independent and very pragmatic person who strongly believed in the American political system.
Many of us will remember Mr. Dowling as the early voice of the revived Harford County Farm Fair that celebrated its 30th anniversary just this past summer. He was a volunteer with the Farm Fair Board from its inception. He was also active with the former Susquehannock Environmental Center, the organization that taught two generations of Harford County folks about the need to nurture and protect the natural world.
Mr. Dowling also headed the county’s tourism office and the office on aging and later worked as a recycling coordinator for the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority.
A passage from his published obituary compiled by his family was on point: “Clif had a brilliant mind and a wide range of interests which included trivia, John Prine music, collecting fossils and reminding friends he attended the Woodstock Music Festival in New York on its opening day.”
As we mourn the passing of another of our Bel Air “originals,” we also remember a man whose highly intelligent insights into this complex world in which we live, delivered with a wry smile, were usually right on the mark.