By Barry Hunter
Like so many of us who knew Jim Fowler, I was deeply saddened to read of Jim’s recent passing. His legacy of what he contributed to the recycled materials industry and ISRI cannot be denied. As the member who probably worked the closest with Jim throughout his career with ISRI and its predecessor organization, the Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel (ISIS), I feel obligated to share the importance of those years, and the equally important role Jim played for the entire industry.
It was around the early 1970’s when I was assigned to be the Public Relations Committee chair for ISIS. Jim Fowler was the director of public relations for the organization and so began our long relationship spanning well over 20 years of working together. It was at a time when the phrase “recycling” was just taking public root and bringing awareness to what the “scrap industry” had been providing for years. A forward-thinking ISIS leadership and board, along with Dr. Herschel Cutler, our then executive director, recognized a need to make every effort to transition our industry’s role as scrap iron processors to that of a major important and historical component of recycling.
If I was to be the architect of the effort — Jim was the builder. If I was to steer the car in the right direction — Jim was stepping on the gas. While I had outside responsibility of a business to run, so much of our transitional efforts were left to Jim, his professional training, and ability to implement. Over the years we basically become partners with a single direction to follow. We produced educational award-winning films on scrap recycling. In celebration of Earth Day, we produced award winning posters highlighting the important role our membership offered the recycling movement. We developed and distributed a national teacher program on recycling for young students. We developed a travelling exhibit for various recycling events around the country. We gave a new look and editorial direction to The Phoenix Quarterly, our trade publication at the time. With an absolute need to focus and retain the history of the industry and the association we produced two films, “Our Heritage I and II.” Today ISRI’s Century Club continues to offer future generations the opportunity to learn from the past to build on the future, while maintaining long established friendships.
Fortunately for both of us, there were many more projects we worked together on over the span of our long relationship with both ISRI and ISIS. As these projects grew, so did our friendship. With each passing year and successful projects, my respect for Jim’s ability and talent grew as we continued to move forward together expanding both recognition of the industry and the association. The culmination of our partnership came in 1978 with our “Gift to the Nation” project for The Hirschhorn Museum celebrating the association’s 50th anniversary. This gift, a monumental sculpture called “ISIS” by Mark di Suvero, was produced entirely from recycled steel. The on-site installation process was covered each day by NBC on the “Today Show.” On the day of the dedication ceremony, under the shadow of this gigantic piece of art, I proudly stood by Jim saying, “We did it,” as I did on so many other occasions. By original agreement between the association and the Hirschhorn, the “ISIS” would remain on display for 20 years. In 1999, also by original agreement, Di Suvero’s “ISIS” was replaced with another monumental piece by the artist entitled “What are Years For.” Today the accompanying plaque still reads “A gift from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.” In perpetuity, If and when that piece is ever replaced, whatever is chosen by the Hirschhorn in its place for
display will forever be identified and recognized as a “Gift from ISRI.”
Over the years I have been honored to receive ISRI’s highest awards for member service to the industry. While being honored on those occasions, I always felt Jim part of those awards and should have also been recognized in some manner by the organization for his contribution. In 1979, when Jim’s own trade association, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), awarded its 1978 Silver Anvil Award, it went to ISIS for its “Gift to the People of America” campaign. This most prestigious of PRSA awards is presented yearly at their annual dinner for the “Best strategic public relations campaign of the year.” I, along with our Special Project Committee, a forward-looking ISIS Board, and a caring support staff all shared in the pride of creating that particular project. But rightfully it was Jim, who on behalf of the organization, accepted what in reality I considered to be “his” award. Not just for the one campaign, but in recognition for the years of providing his talent and dedication to our association and finally and forever to the entire scrap recycling industry.