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Gordon McDowell, 1963.

Photo courtesy of Barry Oliver.

McDowell, Ernest Gordon (1907–2001)

By Ross Goldstone

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Ross Goldstone, M.A. (Avondale College, Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia) retired in 1998 as Senior Pastor, Avondale Memorial Church, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia. New Zealand born, Goldstone has served the Church as a pastor, Conference Youth Director, teacher, and Sessional Lecturer at Avondale College. He has authored nine books relating to Adventist history, including The Angel Said Australia. He is also co-author of four other books on Adventist history in Australasia. In retirement Ross Goldstone continues to research and write Adventist Church history.

 

Ernest Gordon McDowell, known as Gordon, is noted for his contribution to the development of education within the South Pacific Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Early Life

Ernest Gordon McDowell was born on September 16, 1907, in Gisborne New Zealand, the oldest child of Ernest and Harriet McDowell.1 At the time of his death on March 27, 2001, he was survived by his sister, Betty (Meredith) and brothers Robert and Alistair.2 His early religious instruction was received in the local Presbyterian Sunday School. He attended school in Gisborne where, in his final year of high school, he became head prefect (highest achieving students), winning a scholarship to Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand.3 Thriving on challenges, from his earliest years he revealed a strong personality, resourcefulness, determination, and competitive nature. These characteristics, demonstrated in his love of rugby union, golf, and mountaineering, were also apparent in his professional life.4

Education

Having achieved his Higher School Certificate (NZ), Gordon McDowell began his tertiary education at Otago University graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1933, a Diploma of Social Sciences in 1934, and a Diploma of Education in 1938. These New Zealand degrees were later supplemented by a Bachelor of Education from the University of Melbourne in 1946, and an Ed. D. from Columbia University in New York in 1948.5 McDowell began his teaching career, employed by the Wanganui Education Board for three years. Later, he moved to Temuka, on the South Island where he taught in the local High School.6

Conversion to the Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDowell came in contact with the Seventh-day Adventist Church by reading a Signs of the Times magazine. He later met Laurence Naden, then a young minister in New Zealand. They shared a commonality, both having grown up in Gisborne. Following Bible studies, McDowell was baptized as an Adventist in August 1932.7 Two years later, while teaching at the Temuka High School on the South Island, he visited the Timaru Adventist church and met Grace Rita Whittaker, the daughter of the resident minister, M. H. Whittaker. Their courtship led to marriage on October 3, 1935.8 The McDowells had one daughter, Aurea, who died in 1993.9

Early Denominational Service

Gordon McDowell’s service within the Adventist education system began in 1936 when he was invited to become the principal of the Papanui Central School in Christchurch, New Zealand,10 a position he held for six years. This was followed in 1942 by one year as headmaster of Wahroonga School, New South Wales. From January 1943 to December 1946, McDowell was headmaster of Burwood High School, (later Sydney Adventist College).11

Study in North America

The years 1947-1949 saw the McDowells abroad. They sailed from Sydney on January 6, 1947, bound for America via New Zealand.12 McDowell intended to study at Columbia University, New York towards his Ed.D. While in North America, McDowell observed both American and Canadian educational systems and practices by visiting many of the denomination’s educational institutions.13 This experience proved valuable in McDowell’s years as principal of both Longburn and Avondale Colleges. On completion of his doctoral studies he accepted an appointment as head of the Department of Secondary Teacher Training at La Sierra College in California, the United States.14

Return to Australia

At the invitation of the Australasian Inter-Union Conference Committee, Dr. and Mrs. McDowell returned to Australia to take the positions of registrar and head of the Department of Psychology and Secondary Education at the Australasian Missionary College.15 On the return journey to Australia, they visited a number of the denomination’s educational institutions in England and Europe. While in France McDowell took the opportunity to climb on Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the French Alpine region. Of this experience he wrote:

The following morning I set off before sunrise to climb to the foot of the famous Mer de Glace, one of the greatest glaciers in the Alps. After walking and climbing for six miles I fell in with three French alpinists who graciously invited me to join their party for the day. I willingly accepted their invitation, but because I did not follow their French too well I was unaware of the arduous climbing that lay ahead - eight miles up the heavily crevassed Mer de Glace, a considerable distance up a tributary glacier and then the almost vertical walls of Les Drus. To my astonishment the latter were furnished with iron ladders and hand bars. Of course, the ascent would have otherwise been impossible. Eventually we reached a height of 12,000 feet to enjoy an alpine panorama that has only one equal, the Gornergrat near Zermatt... I immediately thought of the grand mountaineering companions with whom I had climbed in New Zealand. How they would have loved this spectacle!16

Principal New Zealand Missionary College

From January 1951 until December 31, 1954, McDowell served as Principal of the New Zealand Missionary College at Palmerston North, New Zealand.17 He was ordained to the gospel ministry at the South New Zealand camp meeting in Christchurch on Sabbath afternoon, February 2, 1952.18 Under his enthusiastic leadership, the benefits of a Christian education were promoted throughout the churches of both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Each weekend staff members visited the churches promoting the college, resulting in increased enrollment and many students entering church employment as a result of their college experience. Each year McDowell encouraged students and staff to participate in the Mission Appeal campaign thus giving validity to the then name of the institution.19

In education circles, the name McDowell continues to be associated with the building of new facilities and this is true of his work in New Zealand. Plans were made for a new classroom block, the first stage included science classrooms. These were built under McDowell’s guidance.20 When a vacancy occurred, Grace McDowell also contributed to the atmosphere of the institution by taking over the role of matron for two terms. She was an excellent cook and students appreciated the meals she provided.21

Return to Australia Again

McDowell attended the Australasian Inter-Union Conference Annual Council in Wahroonga from November 23-29, 195322 and was appointed educational secretary for the Australasian Inter-Union Conference, which position he held for the following four years. During this time, he traveled throughout the South Pacific, gaining a familiarity with the scope of education available throughout the division.23 In 1959, he replaced Dr. E. E. White as principal of the Australasian Missionary College, a position he held for a period of twelve years.24 Gordon McDowell brought both educational experience and understanding to his leadership responsibilities at Avondale. He was familiar with the educational systems of Australia, New Zealand, and North America, and had observed schools in England and Europe.

McDowell was well aware the rising academic standards in Australian and New Zealand society, and the necessity of Adventist education meeting those expectations if it was to be credible. Therefore, he was of the firm belief that the institution at Avondale needed to offer more courses and upgrade those already available to match the demands of an increasingly educated society. He also believed that new buildings should be constructed to facilitate such changes, and aggressively pursued his ideals in consultation with the denomination’s leaders in Wahroonga. Work on a hostel for missionary’s children and a new administration and classroom block were opened on Sunday, May 14, 1961.25 Other physical plant developments followed in succession. New accommodation for men, known as Watson Hall, replaced Haskell Hall and was opened on graduation weekend, November 1964.26 Additions to Andre Hall (the young ladies’ dormitory) were necessitated by increasing enrollment, as was a new cafeteria–opened in 1967.27 New courses of study and ensuing increases in enrollment necessitated increased staff and, therefore, new staff housing.

The additional academic programs did not preclude more practical subjects. Manual arts courses were offered, including home economics and cooking. Though not formally trained in this field, Grace McDowell gave instruction in this course with an emphasis on cooking–something at which she was well accomplished.28

McDowell worked determinedly to gain academic recognition for courses taught at Avondale College, particularly in the field of science. According to Milton Hook, prior to 1960 virtually no tertiary-level science had been taught at Avondale. An interest in establishing a science department was strongly advanced when the highly qualified Dr. Eric Magnusson joined the faculty in 1961.29 Inviting guest speakers to Avondale who were widely recognized authorities in various disciplines of science became part of McDowell’s strategy for gaining recognition for Avondale’s upgraded science course.30 In 1967, a three-year Diploma of Science identical to the first three years of the Bachelor of Science (London) was implemented.31 Tertiary level studies in science greatly enhanced the options available to students seeking careers as secondary school teachers within the denominational education system, as did degrees offered in affiliation with Pacific Union College in California beginning in 1953.32 As a result of the affiliation, students studying secondary education or ministry were able to gain a BA degree from Pacific Union College. However, with a few exceptions, those pursuing post tertiary academic qualifications faced the non-acceptance of their Avondale-awarded degrees as they did not meet the level of academic rigor accepted in Australia and New Zealand. To overcome this difficulty, some students studied for a second BA degree from a state university in order to gain entrance into graduate school and their chosen careers. The twelve years of McDowell’s presidency at Avondale were spent largely addressing the problems of acceptance of Avondale’s academic programs by the various state universities. According to fellow educationalist Dr. Trevor Lloyd, “Dr. McDowell helped guide the Seventh-day Adventist education system from a position of comparative isolation to where it could take place confidently in the academic and professional life of the South Pacific.”33

McDowell’s final seven years of denominational service were spent as the South Pacific Division’s educational secretary.34 As he traveled around the South Pacific and the schools in Australia and New Zealand, he received much satisfaction, witnessing the contributions of former students of the New Zealand Missionary College (Longburn College) and the Australasian Missionary College (Avondale College of Higher Education).

McDowell officially retired on March 29, 1977.35 Immediately after his retirement, he and his wife enjoyed an extended holiday-tour of Europe before settling into their home in Wahroonga. Rita McDowell died on April 8, 2000, and Ernest Gordon McDowell on Tuesday, March 27, 2001. His final days were spent in the Sydney Adventist Hospital where he was nursed by former students. His funeral was conducted by fellow educationalists and former students.36 Gordon and Grace McDowell are buried in the Avondale Adventist Cemetery at Cooranbong, a short distance from the college they served so faithfully.

Legacy

As principal of the New Zealand Missionary College (now known as Longburn College) and president of the Australasian Missionary College (now known as Avondale College of Higher Education), Ernest Gordon McDowell vigorously devoted his energies to upgrading the physical plant and academic standards of these institutions. He also served two terms as education secretary of the South Pacific Division. Though an educator, Gordon McDowell left a legacy of young people from Australia and New Zealand trained for the ministry. To this end, he established the McDowell Theology Scholarship. His memory has also been perpetuated by McDowell House, the former residence of the principal.

Sources

“An Educational Tour in New Zealand.” Australasian Record, August 13, 1951.

Australasian Union Conference Executive Committee Minutes, February 24, 1953. Action 53/2851: Plan for Affiliation, A. M. College with Pacific Union College. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Battye, W. E. “Trans-Tasman Union Conference President’s Report.” Australasian Record, January 11, 1954.

“Brevities.” Australasian Record, February 3, 1947.

“Brevities.” Australasian Record, October 10, 1949.

“Brevities.” Australasian Record, February 27, 1950.

“Brother E. G. McDowell, recently a teacher in the Temuka High School…” Australasian Record, January 27, 1936.

Ernest Gordon McDowell Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Ernest Gordon McDowell Sustentation Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Grace Rita McDowell Service Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Head, Charles. “Trans-Tasman Union Appeal.” Australasian Record, May 25, 1953.

Hills, Desmond B. “New Men’s Dormitory Opened at Avondale College.” Australasian Record, January 11, 1965.

Hook, Milton. Avondale: Experiment on the Dora. Cooranbong, New South Wales: Avondale Academic Press, 1998.

Lansdown-Colquhoun, Judy. “No One Wanted to Miss a Meal.” In Desmond B. Hills, Sheila McNabb and Narie Ioannitis-Carter, eds. Celebrating the Legacy: Longburn Adventist College Centenary, 1908-2008. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Company, 2008.

McDowell, E. G. “European Journey.” Australasian Record, February 13, 1950.

McDowell, E. G. “European Journey Continued.” Australasian Record, February 20, 1950.

McDowell, E. G. “European Journey Concluded.” Australasian Record, February 27, 1950.

McDowell, E. G. “In Search of Knowledge.” Australasian Record, April 12, 1948.

McDowell, E. G. “In Search of Knowledge, Concluded,” Australasian Record, April 19, 1948.

McDowell, E. G. “Sampling the Missionaries’ Miseries and Joys.” Australasian Record, November 28, 1955.

McDowell, E. G. “Science at Avondale.” Australasian Record, November 27, 1961.

New Zealand Births, Deaths, and Marriages Online. Accessed September 15, 2018. https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz.

Presnall, Stewart. “Avondale Opens New Cafeteria.” Australasian Record, August 14, 1967.

Rampton, F. G. “McDowell-Whittaker Marriage.” Australasian Record, November 11, 1935.

Savige, A. E. “Tertiary Education at Avondale College: 1945-1974.” MEd thesis, University of Newcastle, 1967.

“Those in Attendance at the Trans-Tasman Union Conference Annual Meeting…” Australasian Record, January 25, 1954.

Turner, W. G. “Official Opening of the Ellen G. White Memorial Building and High School Hostel.” Australasian Record, June 19, 1961.

Windeyer, H. J. “South New Zealand Conference Session.” Australasian Record, March 10, 1952

Notes

  1. Ernest Gordon McDowell Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon;” Document: “Biographical Information Blank, August 23, 1950;” Gisborne, New Zealand, Birth Registration no. 1907/19809, Ernest Gordon McDowell, New Zealand Births, Deaths, and Marriages Online,” accessed September 15, 2018, https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz.

  2. Tom Ludowici, Trevor Lloyd, Alex Currie, and Alwyn Salom, Ernest Gordon McDowell obituary,” Australasian Record, April 21, 2001, 14; “Avondale’s Longest Serving Principal Dies Aged 93,” Australasian Record, April 21, 2001, 4.

  3. Ernest Gordon McDowell Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Celebration of the Life of Dr E. Gordon McDowell.”

  4. A. E. Savige, “Tertiary Education at Avondale College: 1945-1974,” (M.Ed. thesis, University of Newcastle, 1967) 16; personal knowledge of the author as a colleague and associate of Dr McDowell.

  5. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  6. “An Educational Tour in New Zealand,” Australasian Record, August 13, 1951, 5.

  7. Tom Ludowici, Trevor Lloyd, Alex Currie, and Alwyn Salom, Ernest Gordon McDowell obituary,” Australasian Record, April 21, 2001, 14; “Avondale’s Longest Serving Principal Dies Aged 93,” Australasian Record, April 21, 2001, 4.

  8. F. G. Rampton, “McDowell – Whittaker marriage,” Australasian Record, November 11, 1935, 7.

  9. Michael Browning, “Aurea Serena McDowell obituary,” Australasian Record, October 9, 1993, 14.

  10. “Brother E. G. McDowell, recently a teacher in the Temuka High School…,” Australasian Record, January 27, 1936, 8.

  11. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  12. “Brevities,”Australasian Record, February 3, 1947, 8.

  13. E. G. McDowell, “In Search of Knowledge,” Australasian Record, April 12, 1948, 3, 6-7; E. G. McDowell, “In Search of Knowledge, Concluded,” Australasian Record, April 19, 1948, 5, 6.

  14. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Personal Service Record;” “Brevities,” Australasian Record, October 10, 1949, 8.

  15. “Brevities,” Australasian Record, February 27, 1950, 8.

  16. E. G. McDowell, “European Journey,” Australasian Record, February 13, 1950, 2; E. G. McDowell, “European Journey Continued,” Australasian Record, February 20, 1950, 3, 6-8; E. G. McDowell, “European Journey Concluded,” Australasian Record, February 27, 1950, 7.

  17. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records; South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives; Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  18. H. J. Windeyer, “South New Zealand Conference Session,” Australasian Record, March 10, 1952, 4.

  19. Charles Head, “Trans-Tasman Union Appeal,” Australasian Record, May 25, 1953, 6.

  20. W. E. Battye, “Trans-Tasman Union Conference President’s Report,” Australasian Record, January 11, 1954, 3.

  21. Judy Lansdown-Colquhoun, “No One Wanted to Miss a Meal,” in Celebrating the Legacy: Longburn Adventist College Centenary, 1908-2008 (Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Company, 2008), 43; Ramona Parsons, interview by author, October 30, 2018.

  22. “Those in Attendance at the Trans-Tasman Union Conference Annual Meeting…,” Australasian Record, January 25, 1954, 3.

  23. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records; South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives; Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Personal Service Record; E.G. McDowell, “Sampling the Missionaries’ Miseries and Joys,” Australasian Record, November 28, 1955, 1-2.

  24. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Personal Service Record.

  25. W. G. Turner, “Official Opening of the Ellen G. White Memorial Building and High School Hostel,” Australasian Record, June 19, 1961, 1-2.

  26. Desmond B. Hills, “New Men’s Dormitory Opened at Avondale College,” Australasian Record, January 11, 1965, 1-2.

  27. Stewart Presnall, “Avondale Opens New Cafeteria,” Australasian Record, August 14, 1967, 7.

  28. Grace Rita McDowell Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “McDowell, Grace Rita Personal Service Record.”

  29. Milton Hook, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora (Cooranbong, New South Wales: Avondale Academic Press, 1998), 256.

  30. E. G. McDowell, “Science at Avondale,” Australasian Record, November 27, 1961, 3.

  31. Hook, 257.

  32. Australasian Union Conference Executive Committee Minutes, February 24, 1953, Action 53/2851: Plan for Affiliation, A. M. College with Pacific Union College, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

  33. Tom Ludowici, Trevor Lloyd, Alex Currie, and Alwyn Salom, Ernest Gordon McDowell obituary,” Australasian Record, April 21, 2001, 14; “Avondale’s Longest Serving Principal Dies Aged 93,” Australasian Record, April 21, 2001, 4.

  34. Ernest Gordon McDowell Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon;” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  35. Ernest Gordon McDowell Sustentation Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Details Re Presentation of Sustentation Applications.”

  36. Ernest Gordon McDowell Biographical Records; South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, Folder: “McDowell, Ernest Gordon,” Document: “Celebration of the Life of Dr. E. Gordon McDowell.”

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Goldstone, Ross. "McDowell, Ernest Gordon (1907–2001)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed September 21, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B7ZY.

Goldstone, Ross. "McDowell, Ernest Gordon (1907–2001)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access September 21, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B7ZY.

Goldstone, Ross (2021, January 09). McDowell, Ernest Gordon (1907–2001). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved September 21, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B7ZY.