An internationally renowned artist, a pioneer in health and fitness and a leader in higher education will join WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni this fall.
The late Joe Dudley Downing, the late Josephine Cherry Lowman and Dr. James Ramsey will be inducted during WKU’s Homecoming celebration.
The 19th class of noted alumni will be inducted during a Homecoming week luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 29 at the Sloan Convention Center. For ticket information, contact the WKU Alumni Association at 1-888-WKU-ALUM.
Profiles of each inductee follow.
Joe Dudley Downing
A native of Tompkinsville who grew up in Horse Cave, Downing stretched a three-month vacation in France in 1950 into a career as an artist who gained international fame.
Downing grew up on the family’s tobacco farm in Horse Cave but fell in love with the French countryside and its people during his service as an artillery observer with the U.S. Army in World War II.
After he returned to the United States, he enrolled at WKU for the 1945-46 school year and began to recognize his enthusiasm for art with encouragement from Ivan Wilson. But following his parents’ wishes, he began preparing for a career in optometry and enrolled in the Northern Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. While there, however, he also took classes at the Chicago Art Institute.
He graduated from optometry school in 1950, but before beginning that career Downing went to Paris for what was to be a three-month vacation. He lived in France until his death in 2007.
In 1952, Downing had his first one-man show. Over the next half-century, he became known worldwide as a painter and sculptor for his abstraction and experimentation with different media formats – leather, linen, canvas and old wood. He was also a writer and published two books of poetry.
Downing has the distinction of being one of only three Americans to exhibit work at the Louvre Museum in Paris. His art has been exhibited in France, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Germany and other countries.
Downing has permanent collections of his works in such museums as the Smithsonian Institute and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, as well as WKU’s Kentucky Museum and Library, the Speed Museum in Louisville and the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art and around the world in the Paris Museum of Modern Art and in Belgium, Luxembourg, Israel, Australia and Canada.
The Downing Museum at the Baker Arboretum in Bowling Green is the home of a large collection of his works.
Downing died Dec. 29, 2007, in the village of Menerbes in France. He was 82.
Josephine Cherry Lowman
A native of Bowling Green, Lowman became a pioneer in her field of health and physical fitness with Why Grow Old?, a column that appeared in 1,200 daily newspapers in more than 30 countries.
One of three children of WKU’s founder Henry Hardin Cherry, she spent much of her childhood outdoors where she discovered the joy of physical health and vitality.
When she turned 17, her father asked what she would like to do if she ever had to support herself. With her love of sports and the outdoors, Lowman chose to study physical education.
She graduated from Western Kentucky Normal School in 1919, then attended the Sargent School of Physical Education in Cambridge, Mass. Following her graduation from Sargent in 1921, she returned to Western Kentucky Teachers College and was head of the physical education department from 1921 to 1923.
On Dec. 31, 1923, she married Shepard W. Lowman, a promising young geologist who later became a research scientist. The Lowmans moved to Mexico, then New York then Oklahoma.
In 1934, longing to teach again, she began an exercise program for women at the YMCA in Tulsa, Okla. As the classes grew and students marveled at their health improvements, Lowman approached the managing editor of the Tulsa Tribune about writing a column about exercise and health. Within weeks, Why Grow Old? was a hit and the newspaper offered the column to the Register and Tribune Syndicate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Lowman’s column helped lay the foundation for what we know today as the health and fitness movement and opened the gateway to physical and mental health and vitality for hundreds of thousands of women and their families.
By 1940, Lowman was receiving 100,000 letters a year from readers asking for her advice. Her column had a readership of more than 2 million.
In the late 1940s, she moved to Troy, N.Y., when her husband joined the faculty of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She continued writing the column until her death in 1983.
She and her husband had two children, Shepard C. Lowman and Cherry Lowman.
Dr. James “Jim” Ramsey
A native of Fern Creek, Dr. Ramsey has had a distinguished career as a leader in higher education, economics and public policy.
Dr. Ramsey received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from WKU in 1970. He received his master’s degree and doctorate in economics from the University of Kentucky.
From 1981 to 1992, he served the Commonwealth of Kentucky in a variety of finance and budget roles including chief state economist and executive director for the Office of Investment and Debt Management.
In 1992, Dr. Ramsey returned to WKU as vice president for Finance and Administration and was an economics professor. He served as the Commonwealth of Kentucky budget director from 1995 to 1998.
From 1997 to 1998, he served as special advisor to the chairman of the Council on Postsecondary Education, as acting president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and as head of the state’s transition team for its Postsecondary Education Improvement Act.
In 1998, Dr. Ramsey accepted a job as vice chancellor for administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He returned to Kentucky in 2000 and served as interim commissioner of the Office of the New Economy and again as senior policy advisor/state budget director under Gov. Paul Patton.
Dr. Ramsey was named the 17th president of the University of Louisville in November 2002 and is serving U of L during an unprecedented time of growth and academic achievement.
He also has served in various academic and administrative roles in the College of Business Administration at Loyola University, the University of Kentucky’s Center for Public Affairs, the University of Louisville and Middle Tennessee. In addition to his higher education service, Dr. Ramsey has lectured and advised across the globe on economic principles.
He was named Kentucky’s Distinguished Economist of the Year in 1999, Louisville Business Leader of the Year in 2007 and the 2010 Louisvillian of the Year by the Louisville Ad Federation. Ramsey won the National Governors Association’s Outstanding Public Service Award in 2001.
Dr. Ramsey and his wife, Jane, have two children, Jenny and Jacque.
Contact: Tracy Morrison, (270) 745-4395.