Remembering beloved Sonoma State accounting professor Wally Lowry

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If you attended Sonoma State University over the past 50 or so years, you probably knew Wally Lowry.

If you’re an accountant in the North Bay, he might have taught you the tools of the trade.

If you live in Sonoma County, you’ve probably served on boards with Wally or at least knew of him.

Wally Lowry made a positive and far-reaching impact during his 83 years on earth. And at the Business Journal’s annual CFO awards event on Aug. 16, Lowry’s family was presented with a posthumous award honoring his work and the difference he made in so many lives.

“Wally didn’t do things to get recognition, but he still would have appreciated this, of course.” said Ellie Lowry, who was married to her husband for 62 years. Lowry passed away on Sept. 14, 2017 from complications of a fall. “Wally was very dedicated to Sonoma State. Whatever he was doing, he was always passing out his card to get people to SSU.”

About 30 years ago, Wally Lowry was discovered to have an embolism — a blockage — in his lungs and had to be admitted to the hospital, Ellie Lowry said.

“He told the doctor he can’t possibly stay in the hospital,” she said. “So he ran an office from his hospital room and was trying to talk a lot of the nurses into going to Sonoma State to become CPAs.”

Wally Lowry, a Chicago native who began his career in public accounting in 1959, earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley.

Of note, he ran his own private accounting practice throughout his lengthy career, and sat on multiple boards in Sonoma County, where he and his family moved in 1961.

From 1969 to 2001, Wally Lowry taught all aspects of accounting to SSU students. In 1996, as program director of the School of Business and Economics at SSU, he was instrumental in founding the first bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Wine Business Strategies.

On Dec. 7, 2015, SSU announced that the Lowrys had donated $300,000 to student scholarships and the future Wine Spectator Learning Center, an education and industry hub that debuted in May.

“He put his money where his mouth was, as far as supporting what you believe in,” Ellie Lowry said.

Wally Lowry also was the founder of SSU’s Accounting Forum, which brought together students and hiring firms.

“Dad so enjoyed these events and the opportunity to highlight SSU, the accounting students and the profession,” said Cynthia Zundel, the Lowry’s eldest daughter, who attended several of the forums. Like her dad, Zundel also is a CPA, and joined him for a few continuing professional education classes. “It was fun to talk concepts and theory with him, and learn from his perspective.”

Stephanie Nacouzi, the younger of the Lowry’s two daughters, is a physician. She also followed in her father’s footsteps, but in another way.

“We both went to Stanford,” she said, explaining both were members of the university’s alumni association. “They have a wine program and I recommended my father to be on that … They have vintages available for sale, and he would help select the vintages.”

Between their two daughters, the Lowrys have 10 grandchildren, ranging between 13 and 31 years of age. “Wally was very proud of all of them,” Ellie Lowry said.

If this sounds like a very full life, there’s one more important aspect that Ellie Lowry wanted to acknowledge.

“Wally had a parallel career in the Navy,” she said. For 29 of those years, he served as a Captain in the United States Naval Reserve. The family has made arrangements for him to receive military honors, which will take place Sept. 24 in Dixon.

“After he died, I went to pick up some medication at Walgreens, and (when my name was called), a guy in the waiting area asked if I was related to Wally,” she said. “He had some story to tell me about him.”

Ellie Lowry said that after Wally’s passing, the family received many letters from students describing how Wally’s teachings and giving back to the community had affected their lives.

“He really walked the walk and talked the talk,” she said.

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