SOUTH PORTLAND – When Richard Bowman lost the attention of his students once while teaching a class at The Cooper Union, he innovated.

“He got on top of a stepladder and taught the rest of the class from up there,” his daughter Ellen Carlsen remembers, having joined him that day as a child. “He got them engaged.”

“When I hear about the classes he taught and the way he approached his classes,” said son-in-law Phil Carlsen, “he was a teacher that any student would really want to have.”

Mr. Bowman, remembered by his family as eccentric and theatrical, died Friday. He was 93.

For 43 years, Mr. Bowman was a humanities professor at The Cooper Union who used the whole city of New York as a laboratory for his students. Whether the topic was social change, American art, music, literature or comparative religion, he found a way to give his students a hands-on experience.

“If they were studying a poem about the Brooklyn Bridge, they’d actually go walk the bridge,” his son-in-law said.

“Talking to him about anything, his enthusiasm and eloquence about the subject was very vivid,” he said.

His son Tom Bowman remembers his father’s imagination.

“He wore all these colorful clothes, mismatched plaids,” his son said. “He’d say, ‘I wear these bright colors to cheer people up.’“

Mr. Bowman’s parenting philosophy could have been summed up in two words, his daughter said.

“Why not,” she said. “Why not do something that might be a little scary. You could grow from it.”

Following up on this approach, Mr. Bowman, his wife, Ruth, and their children traveled the world. He believed that when traveling, it was important to be fully immersed in the culture. His son said they almost never stayed in a hotel, but often accepted invitations from acquaintances across the globe.

“We went from New York to New York, around the world, in one year,” his wife said. “We visited and saw and became familiar with what was going on. It was a fascinating experience, traveling, and to meet other Quakers in those areas.”

His daughter remembers a picture of Mr. Bowman in Africa standing amid a group of Swahili-speaking natives. He was holding an English-Swahili dictionary.

“They were looking at him in awe and amusement,” she said.

Mr. Bowman was also known for his cooking skills, especially his chowder.

“He always said, ‘If you know how to read, you can cook,’” his wife said, although he would not always follow the recipes, instead doctoring them to his own tastes.

Mr. Bowman and his wife retired to Maine and lived in South Portland for the past 28 years. The couple chose to come here because “that’s where the car knew how to go,” his wife said, having summered here throughout their life together.

“He retired and jumped into Portland life. That’s who he was,” his daughter said.

With a great interest in local history, art and architecture, Mr. Bowman began volunteering as a docent for Greater Portland Landmarks and played the piano at the Victoria Mansion during the holiday season.

“Becoming a docent was natural for him,” his daughter said, given his instinct to teach.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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