17 years and counting, creating value for MLSs

I was doing some research online and found some old images of Charlottesville’s consumer website, mycaar.com. We built it for them in 2003 and it’s been up since then, delivering leads and value to the members of the MLS.

Over seventeen years, the site has, of course, been updated many times as the technology evolved. Solid Earth has provided the service the entire time, through two acquisitions and multiple platforms. While some things change, the important things never do. The point of the site, the only reason it’s there at all, is to make an authentic, direct connection between consumers and our Broker-members.

This week, we learned that CoStar has purchased HomeSnap and with it the BPP project. This transaction is no doubt good news for many because they have successfully created enormous value for their stakeholders. We bring that up because it underscores a strategic point we’ve been making for years. Creating that connection with the consumer is hard, it takes years of dedication and expense. Then, one day, a big brand can come along and buy it, insinuating themselves into a conversation that had been binary, direct, between the MLS and the public. This week, a big brand did just that for MLSs all over the country.

Spring, from Solid Earth, offers a clear alternative. Dozens of Solid Earth customers across America heard the news today and felt no anxiety. They still own their brands and are still providing a durable connection to their markets. A connection in which they may confidently invest to bring their value proposition to the homebuyers and sellers in their cities. Over time. Seventeen years, for example.

YTD Performance of a Spring MLS Portal

If your MLS would like a more direct connection to the consumers. A better channel through which to tell your story, the story of why they should use a professional in their next transactions, the story about why ethics matters, why standards matter, why fair housing and workforce development matters, Spring might be the right vehicle for you. Email Matt Fowler at Solid Earth to talk about how a Spring MLS Portal might benefit your organization.

Monumental Huntsville

They finally did it, they moved the Confederate Monument to historic Maple Hill Cemetery into a more historically correct context. It now sits amid other memorials to soldiers who fought and died in the terrible conflict that so defined nineteenth-century America. It’s too bad it took so long, but I am glad it finally happened for several reasons that I would like to explain.

Image from WHNT Story

Those men who fought and died for The South include two of my Great Grandfathers, and a number of Uncles, and cousins. There are wide swaths of this history about which I am very proud. My relatives were men like Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Issac Criner, and John Hunt. Having pushed back the British, they came out into the western wilderness to seek their fortunes when “The West” was Tennessee. Their lives and hardships are impossible to imagine but are easily visible in Maple Hill by reading the dates on the stones. Their lives were short and difficult. We have come so far, we cannot really understand what they endured so we could live in this place, in relative peace and affluence. I have a deep respect for them and for their accomplishments.

But it is right that the monument was moved away from our County Courthouse. The base of the monument says that it was dedicated to the “Principals on which The Confederacy was founded” and those principals undeniably include the subjugation of Africans. It is true that most Confederates did not own slaves, but they were nonetheless compelled to violence against their new nation by their own separatist, rebel government. A group of men who were intent on preserving a way of life that depended on using, not paying, a group of people as if they were livestock or farm implements. Pointing out that there were other aspects of the conflict besides slavery is deflecting. It was about slavery and these men fought for its continuance.

It is not true that the slaves were happy. It is not true that the monument was to honor Southern Culture. It is not true that moving the monument erases anything. It is not true that everyone in favor of moving the monument is a liberal Democrat. It is not true that no one noticed the monument before.

It IS true that my family moved here before everyone reading this post, the deed says 1803 so let’s see someone beat that. It IS true that the monument is offensive to some people, and they notice it every time. It IS true that leaders recruiting people to Huntsville wish this was not on the Courthouse lawn. It IS true that celebrating a racist, rebel movement in a Federal city is counterproductive. It IS true that Confederate monuments are bad for “SmartCity” brand creation.

So, I am feeling relieved that it’s gone and no one got hurt. I am relieved for Huntsville that we got through this without earning a reputation like Charlottesville or Birmingham. I am relieved that our “protester friends” get to see that their voice does matter. Relieved is not encouraged though. I have read too many comments today for me to feel very encouraged about the environment in which we live. For me, I will just say a prayer of thanksgiving for wisdom and for safety, and for my community to move forward, away from hate, faster.

Florence, Wow.

Yesterday a friend sent me a Resolution passed by the Republican Party of nearby Lauderdale County. Here are some excerpts for your Saturday morning reading: (full text below)

“The Lauderdale County Monument to the men of the County who served in the Confederate Army in the War between the States 1861-1865 fought against oppressive taxation and for states’ rights in an army that included African-Americans in support and combat roles, was dedicated in 1903 and has stood in front of the county courthouse for 117 years.”

“We are urging the Lauderdale County Commission and Florence City Council to honor their oaths of office and follow the law! We are also calling on all of our elected officials to declare their position on the matter,”

I too am calling on public officials to declare their position on the monument in Madison County. This resolution, which passed unanimously, is seriously flawed and shows that they have not in fact read and studied the history even though they apparently think they have. They even refused to call it The Civil War but instead use the worn out Lost Cause phrase “war between the states”. They are clearly Lost Cause believers and apologists for the Confederacy, an uprising based in our own state that sought to overthrow the government of the United States.

Saying that the Confederacy was about “states rights” is like saying Black Lives Matter is about Health Care. The confederacy was a white supremacist movement lead by people who wrongly believed blacks were not fully human and rightly believed their economic systems would collapse without free labor.

I have written extensively about this in the past but it is important to repeat that the war was absolutely about slavery and the South’s right to continue a system of oppression and brutality. The economic structure of the South was based on the use of black families as farm equipment and personal property. The South asserted that it was their state’s right to determine the justice of this practice and no northerner had the right to interfere.

For more context, read The Cornerstone Speech from Alexander Stephens. Watch Ken Burns short film on Confederate Monuments and, here’s a new idea, ask a black friend what they think of them. As Burns said in his film “they are symbols of institutionalized racism in our culture” and have no place in Civil Society.

For me, they are best moved and not destroyed. Move them to a museum where they are placed in context with other now better-understood symbols from our troubled past. No one is seeking to erase anything or destroy anything. The request is that these statues cease to publically venerate the “principals on which the Confederacy was founded” (from the base of the HSV statue).

Full Article

Meridian Street

There is a small community in northeast Huntsville called Lincoln Village. 15 years ago a good friend and pastor started a conversation with a little girl who turned into a commitment and lead to a big project called Lincoln Village Preservation Corporation.
Today LVPC owns that little girl’s house and dozens around it. The place has been transformed into a real neighborhood where families live and work and encourage their kids in the -rather excellent- neighborhood school, which LVPC also owns and operates. The project is, in the vernacular, Faith-Based in a way that we really mean. By Faith-based, Lincoln believes that all of the work that was accomplished belongs to God and the Holy Spirit he left here on Earth with us. That is what is happening at Lincoln, despite the involvement of the flawed and broken sinners that he calls to work and to leadership. 
So it is with some emotion other than pride that I share these stats with you. I am proud of the kids and what they have done. But I am astonished at the accomplishments of our Creator.  Something well beyond and not quite the same thing. It’s more like awe and maybe fear. Like when you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s beautiful, yes, it’s also so much bigger than I am that it’s scary. Anything that enormous, that close to you, just gets your attention. Lincoln is that kind of place.
I have included some stats about the school in this post and I want to post some more in the next few weeks. I just rolled off as Chair of the Board at the end of July and I want to leave a few records of my time there. I have been blessed to be involved with some amazing people working with “non-profits” but Lincoln is a truly special place. 
So, here are some stats. My big takeaway is: our kids are as smart as your kids. Maybe smarter. That is not amazing or even surprising. It’s just that they do not come from a culture that values academic achievement, so they don’t. But when they are shown how valuable, how transformational, a book or a formula can make them. They get it. They are empowered and they excel. Check these out! 
Note: while I am super-pumped about Lincoln’s scores, it is important to realize that we have less than 100 kids compared to over 20K in the City system. We are making a difference in the lives of our families but so much more needs to be done if we are to impact the whole city like we have Lincoln. Like the Holy Spirit has I mean. I am convinced that we do little more than make things more complicated. 

Lincoln Outperforms

If you are inspired at all to get involved in changing the city, I’d suggest you reach out to Lincoln. Come to the website and look at the volunteer opportunities. If you can’t, and you should, you can always donate too.

Racisim and Alcoholism

So I am from Alabama, the Heart of Dixie as it was called when I was growing up. I grew up on a farm north of a mid-size southern city known for its tolerance and diversity and my private school was integrated with the kids of most of the non-white professionals in our little town. Black kids, South Asian kids, Koreans and Chinese kids were my friends. But I knew racists. My grandparents used the “n” word. I once saw a cross burning driving back from Nashville late one night and I knew people who spoke in demeaning terms about the entire black community, depicting them all as untrustworthy and lazy, things I knew not to be true.

Out on the farm, a black family lived in a rental house at the back of the property and worked the land, fixed the fences and cared for the livestock. The children of this family, 21 of them aged one to about 20, we’re my best friends and we played and later worked together every summer and many days after school. I grew up knowing there was something different about the way they lived. About their expectations of themselves and of me. It bothered me on some level I could not then understand.

Recently I have been thinking about racism in the context of the immigration fracas going on in America this year. Like the racists I knew in growing up in Alabama, there are people who legitimately believe that a Syrian Terrorist is going to move in next door to them and blow up their local church. While that is about as likely as one of my friends from school doing that, some people believe it. They read hyperbolic media reports designed to scare people and they are scared. After all, they’ve never actually met a Syrian person and they have no personal experience or context that would push back on the media reports and the statements of their less well-travelled and/or well-read neighbors and friends.

I also have also had considerable experience with alcoholism and alcoholics. My wife and I helped run a homeless ministry for five or six years, we have some alcoholism in both of our families and we own a beer and wine store. There are homeless guys I know who have lost every single thing and relationship they had and they still choose it over a better life. I don’t know many who have beaten it, most are dead of organ failure, Esophageal varices or some related malady. The ones who did beat it usually had something in common, they were inspired by someone or something to finally put it down and choose a better life. Someone got through to them and they had a transformational experience that made them see what life could be life without the drink.

In my opinion. That’s what we have to do with the racists and undereducated people who think other cultures are a threat. So let me pose a question, do you think the homeless guys would stop drinking if I called them names, denigrated their pasts, their actions, their beliefs and their culture, such as it is? I think they’d pull away from someone like that and tune them out. Worse, I think they’d be hostile towards someone like that.

Why do we think racists are different? They have a world-view that is uninformed and leading them down the wrong path. They probably inherited it to some extent from their parents and family and peer group. They honestly believe their way is the only real way to live. When we yell at them, threaten them and insist they change their views it only drives the wedge deeper and convinces them we are crazy and could never be relevant in their lives.

So here’s my takeaway. When you encounter someone who is against more immigration into America or someone who does not believe all the claims about Climate Change, try not to hit them with your “Science Matters” sign.

Instead, try and get to know them. See what makes them tick.

Maybe stop insulting them.

Introduce the anti-immigration guy to your immigrant/first gen friends, there are a lot of them in Huntsville and most are KILLING it (not killing red necks but starting companies, inventing things, hiring people and generally kicking ass).

And don’t call the Climate Change person a “Denier”, thats insulting and just incorrect. I personally do not doubt the science but I do doubt the guy with an agenda telling me about the science. The earth is warming, and I think we are contributing, but how much? Will it really stop rising if we reduce CO2 emmisions? I keep seeing that chart that shows temp rise with and without the Paris Accords but is there any evidence at all that will work? Again, I don’t doubt the science but not every climate change assertion made by Al Gore is real. There is overreach in their arguments that also happen to line up nicely with their social goals, adding more suspicion and cynicism from critical thinkers, like me.

Slowly, and with some finesse, you can convince people that a life where you include people produces a better quality of life and they will make new friends in the process. But there has to be a relationship first.

We have to learn how to do this again in our country. How to reach across the aisle and across the street to engage each other in an honest discussion. Today all we do is yell insults at each other and it won’t change the mind of a racist any more than it will change that of an alcoholic.

Behold the Lamb

I really love the Christmas album and show from Andrew Peterson and friends called Behold the Lamb. If you don’t know it, add it to your Holiday Mix. Love this song in particular. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. So good. They have the show at the Ryman in Nashville every year, usually Sunday and Monday nights since it’s so popular.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

“Fear not”, said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind”

“To you in David’s house this day
Is born of David’s line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign”

“The Heavenly babe, you there shall find
To human view displayed
All neatly wrapped in swaddling bands
And in a manger laid”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Christ is born
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Christ is born

“All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace
Good will henceforth from God to man
Begin and never cease”

What if you could scholarship a kid to Lincoln for free?

What if you could redirect half of your taxes to your kid’s school? You can! We’ll sort of. In Alabama there is something called the Alabama Accountability Act and it allows  taxpayers with an Alabama Income Tax Liability to choose for themselves where their tax money goes! I know it sounds too good to be true and there are some hard parts for the schools but the bottom line for the taxpayer is easy: put your money in the general fund or in your local schools, your choice. Oh and if you are fortunate enough to be an AMT filer, this is cashflow positive for you, ask your accountant or tax preparer.

If you are interested in doing this, estimate your Alabama Income Tax Liability before the end of 2016 and go to
myalabamataxes.alabama.gov. There you will see a menu on the left that includes a Donate to an SGO option, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.00.26 PMWhen you click Donate to an SGO you see a screen like this:


That screen shows that Alabamians can still donate up to $22 million more before the cap of $30 million is hit. It works like this: If you owe the state $1,000, you pay $500 using the screen above in calendar year 2016. Then, after you pay your $1,000 taxes in April of 2017 you will receive a $500 rebate from the state. It is cash flow neutral for the taxpayer and due to some rules, it is cash flow positive for Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) filers. Ask your tax professional about that part.

So there is no catch, no more paperwork, just this one screen and a month or two without your rebate check. If you owe $13,000 in income tax to Alabama your “donation” could scholarship a child. Imagine doing that while having it cost you nothing at all.  Please. Take the time to do this.

Redirect your Alabama taxes to local schools legally

Last year I posted about this in December. This year I am a few months earlier because I am going to beat the drums on this one until everyone hears me! Here’s the simple truth of the matter: Alabama has a poor track record educating our kids. We have challenges on this front to be sure, we have a poor population without a tradition of educational advancement. We have a subculture, white people and non-whites too, that lacks a culture of academic achievement. Still, we spend less on education that most states, tie funding for schools to an antiquated property tax structure and struggle to re-zone our communities to match the patterns of population shifts. As a state, we have a big problem and poor track record of being able to solve that problem.

In Alabama we have a mix of public schools, private schools, independent schools, church schools and now charter schools. Public schools are funded by the Alabama Legislature and by local ad valorem taxes (ad valorem taxes mean that you have to pay a portion of the value of any real estate you own to the county each year). As a way to help fund schools that are trying something different in poor neighborhoods, the Alabama Legislature voted a few years ago to create a fund of up to $30 million dollars. Families with children zoned for a Title 1 school (that is a school with a high percentage of free lunch kids) can apply to one of several Scholarship Granting Organizations approved by the State for a scholarship to a competing private school.

This structure empowersScreen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.00.26 PM the parents of kids living in or near poverty to do something about the difficult school environment in most Title 1 schools. Now, instead of moving across town, they can apply for a scholarship that will allow them to pay $6,000, $8,000 or $10,000 a year for elementary, middle or high school kid respectively to attend a private school. To me, this is a great way to try and see if those kids can do better in another environment, without having to be wealthy.

So, here is your task for today. Call your tax advisor and tell them that you want as much as the law allows to be redirected to one of the Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). There are two that support Lincoln Academy so please choose one of those. They are RocketSGO based in Huntsville and Scholarships for Kids (S4K) based in Birmingham. Either will work for our purposes. Your tax advisor will use the My Alabama Taxes website to enter the amount of your “donation”. It’s not really a donation since you were going to pay it to the general fund anyway if you had not been allowed to redirect the funds. If you need help with this or if your tax advisor has questions please send them to me.

Time of Transition

To the Lincoln Community, Staff, Faculty, Donors, Volunteers, Parents and kids.

It is again my great pleasure to write to the entire community in my capacity as the Chairman of the Lincoln Village Preservation Corporation Board of Directors. With this letter the Board is announcing what will surely be a bittersweet moment in our ministry. As much as it is bittersweet, it is also a necessary and proper developmental step in the life of the ministry that is to be celebrated like the change of seasons. While there is sadness certainly, there is also the thrill of anticipation for the promise of Spring and new life that He has in store for us.

You may not know that it has been three years since our sister Karen Parks was asked to work part-time at LVPC. For one year. Now three years later the position of Executive Director has grown into an essentially full-time job with myriad responsibilities not even contemplated with she accepted. Karen has performed all of those tasks and more with a quiet strength that carried us through difficult times. I personally am not sure anyone else could have done this job, certainly not as well as Karen.

So, recently, Karen shared with the Executive Committee of the Board that it was getting close to the time for her to retire and spend more time with the “grand chickens” as our friend Connie Stearns calls them. To that end, the Governance Committee of the Board began work on a transition plan preparing for a formal search process. But the preparations stopped abruptly a few weeks ago when we were approached by one of our own. The fit was immediately recognized by the entire board to be providential and the motion was made to cancel the search and make the hire.

So, it is my distinct pleasure to tell you of a miracle that He has wrought in our midst yet again. Lakshmi Nallamala has resigned from the Board so that she could apply for the position and was unanimously approved at the last meeting. Lakshmi will serve as the second Executive Director of LVPC beginning in April and she and Karen will work out the timing so that the maximum amount of continuity and momentum is maintained going into 2016-2017.

I know you will all join me in thanking Karen for her years of service to the ministry. Let me also hasten to say that there will be a time for celebration of Karen and her time at the ministry, watch for more on that soon.

Please also join me in congratulating Lakshmi on her transition from Director to Executive Director. Mark and everyone on the Board has full confidence in Lakshmi and we are all excited to see what God will bring to the ministry through her.

Humbled by his grace and In His Service,
Matt Fowler

Ocular Melanoma, Five Years Out





This is Deadly, We’re Sorry

So they started by saying “This is deadly, we’re sorry.”  Five years ago today, February 23rd 2011 is a day that forever changed my life, for the better. I will retell the story briefly, so I can guide others to survival and also have the opportunity to thank a few amazing people who helped me along the way.

First. On the fateful Wednesday February 23rd, I went to see Dr John Cox for a routine eye exam. I was experiencing what I describe as “looking up from underwater” out of the corner of my  right field of vision. John was sure what I had, he told me it was cancer and sent me immediately to the next step, an Ophthalmologist/Retina Specialist.

So on the same morning that I went to see John, I was sent over to Dr Jim Byrne, a family friend, who happened to be off that day. John and I called Jim and he met me at his office anyway. After a few minutes looking at the tumor, Jim confirmed the diagnosis and said I needed to go to Birmingham or Vanderbilt, my choice. He said they would likely refer me on to another center, probably Wills in Philadelphia. Jim also asked me that day what I was afraid about the most. I told him that was an easy one, the loss of contact with my loving family, and the waiting for test results. He told me that Doctors have a name for that period between the scan and the results. It’s called “life”. You can choose to spend those hours or days however you choose, the outcome does not change those days. It was excellent advice.

Next was a visit to Dr Paul Sternberg at Vanderbilt Hospital the next day, Thursday. Dr Sternberg is a wonderful guy and he spent lots of time with me. At the end of the tests he told me to go back home and get a chest x-ray, a liver MRI and bloodwork to see if the cancer had already metastasized into the body. If it was they would recommend a different course of treatment since melanoma mets is universally fatal. Dr Sternberg also said that sometimes a doctor’s best course of action is a good referral.  Due to the seriousness of my case he recommended Wills Eye in Philadelphia as Dr Byrne had expected.

High Scanxiety

The next day was high-scanxiety Friday as my doctor, Ramann Nallamala, scheduled the tests. By mid-afternoon we were cleared for the trip to Philadelphia after a very tense and stressful period of “life” as Dr Byrne called it. By Sunday night we were in Philadelphia preparing for our appointment at Wills the next morning.

Monday morning February 28th we met with The Doctors Shields, the team of Jerry and Carol that wrote the textbook on treating eye cancer, literally.  They were professional and reassuring and deeply knowledgeable about their field. Being there gave me a comfort I can’t explain but it was empowering and timely. They told me to come back the next day for more measurements and to plan on two surgeries: one Thursday to install a radioactive plaque opposite the tumor inside my eyeball, and another one the following Monday to remove it.

After surgery we went home and tried to get back to life in the new normal. To help with local emergencies should they arise I reached out to a local oncologist and old family friend to help me schedule tests etc. Dr. Marshall Schreeder at Clearview Cancer has since helped me navigate treatment, he’s wonderful and I love his whole family.

70% Chance of Death from Metastatic Melanoma

Three months later we went back to Wills to receive the results of the genomic testing. Those results indicated that I had a 70% chance of metastatic spread and death from the disease within 48 months. That was the roughest news we received during the whole treatment period but it put us on a path of aggressive treatment to which I credit my survival.

That treatment included Avastin shots into the eyeball, one every three months for two years. In year two I also started on oral chemo called SUTENT prescribed by my Medical Oncologist at Thomas Jefferson Dr Takami Sato. Sr Sato is a rockstar in the treatment of metastatic melanoma and a great guy too. Also, to finish treating the tumor after plaque radiation I had TTT (Transpupillary thermotherapy), a laser beam aimed through your pupil to burn tissue on the back of the eye. Together these treatments have beaten the odds, I am still alive and not metastatic, and I have 20/40 vision in the “bad” eye. Amaxing.

So, after all of that, I am 60 months out today from diagnosis. Drs Cox, Byrne, Sternberg, Nallamala, Shields, Shields, Sato, and Schreeder have formed the dream team for me and I thank them so much for my site and my life.


Power Tip: Redirect 1/2 of your State Income Tax to Lincoln Village

End of Year Appeal, with a Twist

Over the weekend, you are likely to have gotten an appeal from a charity, perhaps one you’ve supported in the past. But, Lincoln is different from other things you support. Lincoln is completely Local. It affects families you probably encounter at some point living in Huntsville. Families with whom your kids will play ball. With whom you share a roadway and with whom you vote. Personally, I am big supporter of the Nature Conservancy and The Land Trust of North Alabama but I am bigger supporter of Lincoln. Why? Because it’s about people, specifically kids, that need the help and guidance of successful families if they are to be productive citizens and share in civil society. Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 11.47.25 AM

Lincoln is not a hand-out. It’s a hand-up. We understand what enabling looks like and we work against it. Instead, we offer families who legitimately want to engage in their own success to come to our school and to our neighborhood. If they meet their goals, they will succeed and break the cycle of generational poverty. Lincoln Village is working to transform a small part of Huntsville by building up one family at a time and it’s working.

Not Asking for a Check

But, we are not asking you to write us a check. We’ve done our homework and we are going to work smarter than that. Because of a law called the Alabama Accountability Act, Alabama Taxpayers can redirect a portion of their state tax liability to one of several Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs. SGOs are authorized by the state to accept these payments and then to provide scholarships to families with K-12 students currently attending a low performing school. The parents of those kids can apply with an SGO and if they qualify they can receive $6,000 to $10,000 per year to attend certain private schools of which Lincoln is one.

Too Good to be True

To be clear, this is not a donation, it is a way for a limited amount of money, up to $30 million, to be redirected to local private schools. It is money that you would be paying into the general fund of the State of Alabama anyway. This law allows you to redirect up to half of your Alabama Income Tax Liability into these SGOs. They are allowed a small administrative fee to process the scholarships and both of the groups with whom Lincoln works are exceptional managers of the funds. This really is a too-good-to-be-true opportunity for Lincoln, there is no downside for the taxpayers or for the school.

So, finally, when you go to pay your Alabama Income Tax. Please please please choose to redirect the maximum amount allowed to one of the SGOs with which Lincoln Academy has a relationship: Scholarships for Kids in Birmingham or RocketSGO in Huntsville. For this last push, we would ask that you please choose Scholarships for Kids over RocketSGO as they are still a little short of their budget and they are our valued partners in education.  Thanks for reading. If you have a question please comment on this blog post and I’ll reach out.

Dad, fifteen years later

peacock-90051_640So my Dad has been gone 15 years this morning. He squeezed more than most out of 74, almost 75 years and touched many many people. Many of them have written great stories and posts on the “I Worked at Bill’s London Transit” FaceBook Page, and the Huntsville Revisted FaceBook page.

He taught me so many things: how to be a Dad, how NOT to be a Dad (and a husband) and too many things to list about business. He said that for someone in sales, and most people are in sales, that you want fans, not just customers. People who will come and find you, whatever you happen to be selling at the time. Not because you are the cheapest or the fastest or the closest, but because you have come through for them so many times in the past that they could not see themselves going anywhere else.

So I miss the guy very much even 15 years later. I’d love to show him Old Town Beer Exchange and the latest big website project we have published at Solid Earth. He’d have a lot to tell me, some of which I feel sure I need to know.

I’d love him to see “baby Sarah” going to Medical School, and Hannah getting on so well in her career in the Big City. He’d be so proud; just as I am.

I’d also like to invite him to my upcoming 30th wedding anniversary and talk about how Julie and I were able to pull that off with no periods of separation or drama; well not too much drama. He and Mom made it to 36 years but there were gaps, sort of. I think he’d be proud of that too.

So on the anniversary of his departure into whatever is next, I thought I’d post this article written by my old friend Bill Easterling, who also has left us, and run on the Local page in the Huntsville Times on July 7, 2000. Bill captured it pretty well I think. Here goes…

The other side of a man’s life shines a light on his character

Bill Easterling’ – 07/06/00 – Huntsville Times

The peacocks watched him through a bedroom window Saturday morning. They hadn’t done that before. He died before day was done, making their gesture more remarkable.

But Bill Fowler was an exceptional man, so the uncommon thing the peacocks did didn’t surprise his wife.

”He loved animals,” Janice Fowler said. ”Especially birds. He always said animals were God’s main creation, and people were just a sideline.”

If Bill Fowler wasn’t a legendary figure, he was at least mythical.

In the 1970s, he opened London Transit in Huntsville, a men’s clothing store way ahead of its time.

He built a chain of 14 Bill’s London Transits across the Southeast before financial problems closed all except the Atlanta store, which he kept going until 1986.

But Fowler could always overcome problems. He bounced back, opening K&G Men’s Center in Atlanta with three friends. When that store merged with what’s now Men’s Wearhouse, Fowler ”kind of retired” from the clothing industry.

Clothes were his legacy. His father, William M. Fowler, owned a series of clothing stores here. But the son never went into business with the father, choosing instead to become partners with Hilding Holmberg before opening his own store, Bill’s Men’s Wear.

Gossip spread like wildfire when Fowler, chasing bigger markets, moved to Atlanta in 1980, leaving his wife to raise their three children, Matt, Laura Fowler Cope and Bill II.

The meddlers didn’t know the flamboyant clothier with the black eye patch came home nearly every Friday, returning to Atlanta on Sunday nights. Not only that, said his wife, ”We married in 1963, and not a day ever passed that he didn’t call me on the phone at least once. It didn’t matter if he was in London or Atlanta or wherever.”

They met because of an animal. Bob Ward, then a reporter for The Times, invited her to accompany him to see an ocelot Fowler was said to have at his store. Ward said, ”If it (the ocelot) isn’t there, just act like we’re shopping and then we’ll leave.”

When Fowler was diagnosed with latter-stage cancer last August, he came home to finish living his life with his wife, his children and his grandchildren.

Mrs. Fowler said oncologist Dr. Marshall Schreeder ”is such a wizard, he gave us 11 months we would not have had otherwise.”

They were ”the best 11 months we ever had together.”

Bill Fowler, a man with a warm personality and a cutting sense of humor, was generous to a fault. He loved helping the needy. In fact, one note he left his wife asked her to ”keep an eye on (so-and-so), he might need a little help.”

Janice Fowler said her husband ”lived his life to the fullest. He said he had no regrets for the choices he had made. He also said he’d marry me again today.”

She said he was ”just a wonderful gift the Lord gave us.”


Lincoln Academy Taking Applications

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Who We Are

Lincoln Academy is a church school which seeks to provide a high quality Christ-centered education to K-8 students who are zoned to public Title I schools.

With the efforts of a devoted administration, faculty and staff, all students receive standards based, data driven instruction in a supportive environment to achieve their maximum potential. It is our commitment to ensure deep academic content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and Christian character building to have students prepared for high school and college.


Our students receive scholarships based on income. The scholarships are granted from “Scholarships for Kids” which is a state scholarship granting organization. Scholarships may only be granted on behalf of students who meet the eligibility requirements of the Accountability Act:

  • The student is a member of a household whose total annual income meets the requirements of the Accountability Act.
  • The student was eligible to attend a public school in the preceding semester or is starting school in Alabama for the first time.

Does my child qualify for a scholarship?

Scholarships are available for students transferring from “failing” public schools to qualified nonpublic schools, and, under some circumstances, to other students that meet the income requirements. Income Requirements.

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If you have questions about the school or about applying just ask me or send an email to mfowler@solidearth.com. I will forward it to the right people at Lincoln.

We also have a pre-school if your kids are not ready for elementary yet.

Four More Years

imagesSo its February 23, 2015, a milestone for me and my family.  Four years ago this morning I was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma (OM), specifically a 14mm x 16mm x 2.9mm choroidal melanoma tumor inside my right eye. Most people who know me remember that I had an issue with my eye and often ask me how my sight is doing.  I want to take this opportunity to provide an update and some nuggets from my now four year journey with cancer.

First an update: OM is not really about eyesight. An OM tumor is highly likely to spread outside the eye into vital organs and lead to death. I was told that I had a 30% chance of living longer than four years by a genetic counsellor who gave me the prognosis. That kind of message made me much less concerned about eyesight and more concerned about the spread of cancer. The tumor in my eye is still there but after being irradiated, bathed in chemo and lasered repeatedly it is shrinking and should no longer pose a threat. I have had CTs and MRIs often since 2011 and to date no cancer has been found outside of the original site. If there is no cancer found this year, my risk will go down to around 10%.

So, if nothing else happens, I may have survived a very deadly disease.

Now for the take-aways. Like me, Oliver Sacks has Ocular Melanoma too. His recent Op Ed in the New York Times is a great read and describes pretty well how I feel about receiving a terminal diagnosis.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.

Dr Sacks has an amazing mind and clearly has a deep appreciation of the life he has lived. Still, at 81 he is lamenting his situation. That is understandable since he is human and will miss the only life and family he has ever known. But in a way it is sad; less grateful than one should be for the privilege of living eight decades.

I don’t know Dr Sacks and should not criticize but here’s what makes me say that.

One day I was sitting in the Ophthalmological Oncology Waiting Room at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia feeling sorry for myself. I was about one year into regular treatment and not looking forward to getting another shot in the eyeball.  A little girl wearing an eyepatch came in with her mom and sat down across from me. She was about 10, about the age of my little niece.  In that moment I realized that I had not been thankful. I felt like a petulant kid at Christmas who did not get the requested present. It was not a good feeling.

As Dr Sacks said, he has traveled, written, read, lived, loved and has been loved. Me too. I have two daughters who have grown into healthy, productive adults. They are really pretty cool people too, people I love to spend time with. My wife of almost thirty years is a constant companion and my best friend in the world. I miss her right now and we’ve only been apart for about three hours and that relationship is a gift from above. It’s also something that the little girl at Wills may never know.

So, how long is long enough to live? I don’t know the answer to that but I want to strive to be the person who is thankful for however long it is. It reminds me of this song “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry.

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time…

But I am pretty sure no one really feels that way; even if you die in your 80’s like Dr Sacks probably will.  It’s hard not to covet more time but that’s my prayer for my fourth anniversary. That I can listen to that Band Perry song and sing along with those lyrics with an honest voice. A voice that says, yep, I’d like more but I’ve had just enough time. Thanks be to God.

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