Barbara Joan Gates Dowdle

Published 8:31 am Monday, February 6, 2023

Barbara Joan Gates Dowdle was born in Helena, Alabama on the 2nd day of January 1934. Joan, as she was known, graduated from Thompson High School and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from the Alabama College for Women, now the University of Montevallo.  Later, she received her Master’s in Administration and a Doctor of Education Degree in Administration and Educational Leadership from the University of Alabama.

Prior to moving to Huntsville in 1962, Joan taught in Montgomery and Auburn, Alabama and Raleigh, North Carolina.  In 1956, working with Auburn University and the public educational television network, she piloted a music program for use in public classrooms. While a first-grade teacher at Monte Sano Elementary School, she worked as staff developer for Follow Through, a new Federal program to help children in grades one through three from low income homes succeed in public schools. She began her tenure as the principal of Ridgecrest Elementary School in 1974, and in 1981, became the principal of Huntsville Middle School. In 1985, after moving to Tuscaloosa, she was named principal of Tuscaloosa Middle School.

From 1974 – 1995, she conducted accreditation reviews for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In addition to her doctoral dissertation, she published articles centered around educational administration and leadership. Additionally, Joan served as an Adjunct Instructor for the University of Alabama. In 1993, she retired after 33 years in public education.

She was a member of First Baptist Church in Huntsville and previously served the Christian Women’s Job Corps as a board member, volunteer, and curriculum team leader.

She had been a member of many community, civic, and professional organizations, including the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Guild, the Huntsville Hospital Foundation Millennium Society, the Women’s Guild of the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Huntsville-Madison County Retired Teachers Association, Kappa Delta Pi, the University of Alabama College of Education Board of Advisors, Delta Kappa Gamma, UAH Women’s Club, Soroptimist International of Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, the Community Ballet Board, Blossomwood Garden Club, RotaryAnn, the Huntsville Study Circle, and the Board of Directors for the Earlyworks Museums, where she chaired the 2001 Rocket City Barbecue and Whistle Stop Festival.

She received the Madison County Women’s School of Honor Award as the Outstanding Educator for the year 2000 by the Girl Scouts of North Alabama, Inc. Her name was added to the Madison County Women’s Scroll of Honor Plaque, which hangs in the Madison County Courthouse.

Joan was preceded in death by her husband of 48 years, Dr. Joseph Clyde Dowdle; parents, Johnny and Hattie Cook Gates; brother, Dr. John Robert Gates; son-in-law, William Sterling May; brother-in-law, William Thomas Dowdle Jr.; sister-in-law, Lois Mertens Dowdle; and niece, Curry Jo Dowdle.

Survivors include daughters, Jan Dowdle Thornton (Mark), Jeanne Dowdle Rizzardi (Donald), and Joanna Dowdle May-Rouse (Matthew); grandchildren, John Wildsmith Thornton, Matthew Roderick Thornton, Lexie Gates Rasco, Cate Joseph Rasco, Hughston Elizabeth May, Annabelle Gates May, Joshua William May and Joseph Dowdle May; son-in-law, Mark Alexander Rasco; nephew, William Thomas Dowdle, III; and niece, Ginny Gates Skelton.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, February 1 at Laughlin Service Funeral Home. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, February 2 at First Baptist Church with Dr. Travis Collins officiating. Burial will be in Maple Hill Cemetery.

Memorials may be made to Huntsville Hospital Foundation, Christian Job Corps, or a charity of your choice.