July 16, 2013

Activist Portland school nurse Amanda Rowe dies at 58

Rowe, wife of former Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, lived a caring, adventurous life.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Amanda Rowe had range.

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This October 2007 file photo shows Amanda Rowe, the then-Portland Schools nursing coordinator, as well as a nurse at Hall Elementary School. Rowe an outspoken advocate for children’s health, died from breast cancer Sunday, July 14, 2013.

Jack Milton / Staff Photographer

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In this June 2001 file photo, Amanda Rowe, nurse coordinator for Portland Schools, speaks in favor of the proposal to dispense contraceptives to qualified high school students. Rowe, an outspoken advocate for children’s health, died from breast cancer Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 58 years old.

Additional Photos Below

As a nurse for more than 20 years at Hall Elementary School, she wouldn't hesitate to accompany a student to the emergency room or make a home visit.

As the nurse coordinator for the whole school district, she successfully advocated for defibrillators in every building and health clinics in the high schools.

Rowe, 58, died Sunday from breast cancer.

"It's going to take a small army to fill the void in terms of service to this community," said Kathleen Casasa, president of the Portland Education Association, who – like many of Rowe's colleagues – counted her first as a friend.

As tireless as she was, Casasa said, she would take the time to properly brew her tea.

She would spend weeks hiking alone in Baxter State Park, and plan entire itineraries for trips with friends to places around the world, from Turkey to New Mexico.

"She was as comfortable in the chicken coop as she was in the State House," Casasa said.

Rowe was married to Steve Rowe, a former Maine attorney general, House speaker and gubernatorial candidate – whom many know better as Amanda Rowe's husband.

"She was more than my wife and life partner. She was my hero," he said Monday.

The couple met while serving in the Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He was a single father of three young children. He took one of them to see a nurse and was assigned to Amanda. Later, he took another one of his children to the nurse.

"The third time, I asked her out," he said.

She eventually agreed to marry him and help raise his children, as long as they would move to Maine, where her family settled when she was 10 after her father retired from the military.

He didn't give it a second thought.

Together, they had a daughter, Lindsay, who's now 28. She and her mother had a bond beyond their biological one. They were best friends.

Many counted Amanda Rowe as their go-to person for help or advice.

Lucky Hollander, a longtime neighbor of the Rowe family, said that when she was director of the Cumberland County Child Abuse and Neglect Council, she always turned to Rowe for information on children's health issues.

When Hollander's daughter got married in May, Rowe left the hospital to go to the ceremony in Ellsworth. A week later, she was in hospice.

Rowe made headlines in 2002, when she was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing for entering a closed Maine Education Association hearing to voice support for a fellow union member. The charge was later dropped.

In 2007, she was in the middle of a controversy over the Portland School Committee's decision to give middle school students access to prescription birth control without parental consent.

The decision, for which Rowe advocated fiercely, made national news partly because of her marriage to the attorney general, whose office was called on to interpret the law on reporting consensual sex by children younger than 14.

Rowe never wavered in her position. She even credited her battle with breast cancer for giving her that resolve.

"That experience made me realize in a very acute way that we are on this earth for a very short time and have only one chance to act on our convictions," she said.

Rowe was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. She was in remission until four years ago. Still, she took a trip to Italy between chemotherapy treatments and continued working until about a year ago.

"She said to us she'd had a wonderful life," her husband said. "There was no anger or self-pity, only appreciation."

Until she died, he said, she continued to ask and worry about others.

"Amanda was the most courageous and caring person I have ever known," he said, "not just because of how she dealt with adversity, but because of how she lived her life."

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

In this August 2009 file photo, Amanda Rowe, school nurse supervisor in Portland, prepares for the new school year with supplies for flu vaccinations. Rowe died Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 58 years old.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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In this March 2010 file photo, Amanda Rowe looks at her husband, Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, as he thanks "Women Rowers" for their endorsement. Rowe, an outspoken advocate for children’s health, died from breast cancer Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 58 years old.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer


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