The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

In tribute: Plastic surgeon loved travel, photography

 

October 13, 2019



CLOVIS — Mac Rowley’s time on Earth might be measured in his thousands of photographs, or in the thousands of lives he touched — patients, students and a large, close-knit family of professionals.

Dr. Milton Rowley specialized in plastic surgery, which he practiced over 40 years in Lubbock, the nearest place for his career to his hometown of Clovis.

Much of the rest of the family stayed on the New Mexico side of the border, but they convened in Clovis often for holidays. Mac would usually be the one to take the group photo, which made sense since he had so much experience in the hobby.

Long before he went off to college at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., and turned around a struggling academic start, he was developing pictures in his darkroom at home. During those years his adventurous spirit was already in force.

“I don’t know if you could call them hellions growing up,” Jane Rowley said of her father Mac and his three brothers Richard, Nick and Mike. “But they were all trouble.”

They managed decently, though — among those four boys were three physicians and an attorney, and more in the generations following.

Mac Rowley’s niece, 9th Judicial District Attorney Andrea Reeb, remembered him as “funny and a mentor and sarcastic,” and a “great all-around man” who “traveled everywhere and went everywhere and photographed everything.”

As an undergraduate in Nebraska, Mac met his wife Ann Patrice Burke. They were married in 1963, and the next year he graduated first in his class from Creighton’s medical school. After another busy four years — completing the general surgery residency and adding three children to the family — he joined the Air Force and worked in Misawa, Japan, for three years.

It was there that his lifelong passion for photography really took hold, said his daughter.

“He started doing photography when he was really young, but I think when we moved to Japan is when he got into it full time,” Jane Rowley said.

The young family moved to the city when he took on additional training at New York University’s Institute for Reconstructive Plastic Surgery, and Mac meanwhile designated the largest closet in the apartment to his dark room.

The dual passions were not unrelated, said his daughter, who followed in his footsteps and worked 18 years with him as a plastic surgeon herself.

“There’s a lot of plastic surgeons (with an artistic bent), one famous guy is kind of a sculptor, I think that really helps, at least in plastic surgery,” said Rowley. “It’s really three-dimensional and (requires) special thinking.”

It helps that “he always loved working with his hands,” she continued. In addition to the tactile work of darkroom photography, he built a wine cellar and the occasional piece of furniture.

Mac was born Nov. 21, 1939, in Clovis to Richard “Dick” and Bertha Rowley, and by the time he started his own career “he wanted to get as close to home as he could,” according to his obituary published in The News. From 1974 through 2015 he practiced in Lubbock, where he founded the Cleft Lip and Palate Clinic at the Texas Tech School of Medicine and served as chief of surgery at Methodist Hospital, among other distinctions.

Arriving in New York he was “a little country bumpkin still,” said his daughter, and of the esteemed surgeons he worked with there was “only one that didn’t get famous.”

“He wanted to live a normal life and be a normal guy,” she said.

But who says a normal life has to be boring?

It certainly wasn’t for Mac — in the past four-plus decades family members said he educated many students and residents and impacted thousands of lives while taking time as able to travel the world taking pictures.

Trouble reading as a child didn’t stop him from making his career, and age didn’t keep him from seeing the world as the years went on.

“He went to Antarctica when he was 70,” said Jane Rowley.

And then to Australia, and meanwhile to every other continent.

“Everything was funny about Dad. He lived large,” Rowley said. “He liked a good Bordeaux wine and Puccini opera as well as the random obscenity and cheap motel room.”

There’s lessons to glean from it all — working hard, aiming high and staying grounded — but most of all the message he gave his children is “do the right thing.”

“Grandpa always told me, ‘I hope you grow up to have sense.’ That carried on to my dad,” said Jane Rowley. “Don’t charge them too much. If someone has a complication, take care of it. If people couldn’t afford the surgery, he’d still do it. He knew he had to. And he made up for it with the people who could pay.”

After his passing Sept. 12 from an acute respiratory illness, Mac was buried with a miniature bottle of Jack Daniels in his suit pocket. Both dignity and a party to the end, in the midst of everything, just as always.

Rowley is survived by his wife and three children — Jane, Mike, and Susan and their families.

 
 

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