A full obituary with comments from the philatelic community will be published in the next issue of CSN (Vol. 45 #24).
Award-winning philatelic author and poet Michael O’Keeffe Nowlan, of Oromocto, N.B., died this morning at the age of 83.
The author of CSN’s “Philatelic Bookshelf” column for nearly 25 years, Nowlan was born on Sept. 1, 1937, in Chatham, a small but bustling town on the southern shore of New Brunswick’s Miramichi River. At the suggestion of his mother, he started collecting stamps when he was about 10 years old. He found a pen pal in Newfoundland – then a British dominion of its own, separate from Canada until 1949 – and the two would swap stamps.
Throughout his life, Nowlan would amass a nearly complete collection of used Canadian stamps plus several thematic collections (one had more than 100 Beethoven stamps). At the same time, he also uncovered the wide world of philately to collectors and non-collectors through his writing.
A TEACHER & A WRITER
In 1955, after moving to Fredericton – the provincial capital – Nowlan graduated from St. Thomas College High School (now St. Thomas University), where he earned his bachelor of arts four years later.
He then received his bachelor of education and master of education from the University of New Brunswick, a degree in children’s writing from the Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut and an honorary doctor of letters degree from St. Thomas University—where it all began nearly half a century earlier.
While he was working at the St. Thomas University library, Nowlan decided to pursue teaching as a profession. For 33 years – from 1961-94 – he worked in public education in New Brunswick. As an English teacher, Nowlan also spoke at conferences and professional development workshops in Canada, the United States and Wales.
His 1989 paper, “The Muse and How It Works: Poetry Writing With Students,” was presented at that year’s Canadian Council of Teachers of English (CCTE) conference and subsequently published in Oregon English.
In 1993, the Department of Education honoured him with a citation for “dedication to youth leadership in the Province of New Brunswick,” and in 1994, the CCTE selected him for the Merron Chorny Award for “outstanding contribution to the teaching of English.”
For his work in English literature, Nowlan earned listings in Canadian Who’s Who, Who’s Who in Canadian Literature and Men of Achievement. He was a freelance editorial writer for Fredericton’s The Daily Gleaner for many years, and for nearly two decades he wrote a regular monthly feature on books for The Atlantic Advocate. His writing also appeared in The Fiddlehead, Family Digest, The Antigonish Review, The Atlantic Provinces Book Review and Canadian Literature, among many others.
His major non-philatelic work was A Century of Service: History of the Knights of Columbus in New Brunswick 1904-2004.
In 2016, after writing nearly 300 articles across 24 years as CSN’s “Philatelic Bookshelf” column, Nowlan retired from that role. His first CSN column appeared in the issue dated March 10, 1992.
“After teaching is when I started seriously writing about stamps,” he told CSN in May 2016, a month before his retirement (“Long-time CSN columnist retiring,” Vol. 41 #01).
Nowlan was replaced by columnist David Piercey that June.
Nowlan’s philatelic writing was popular with the collecting community in Canada and abroad, earning national and international recognition at several shows in the 1990s.
For his writing, he won a silver medal at the American Philatelic Society (APS) StampShow in Houston, Texas (1993); the Hafnia International Stamp Exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark (1994); the Royal in Québec (1995); and Pacific 97 in San Francisco, Calif. (1997). He also earned vermeils for his columns at the APS StampShow in Grand Rapids, Mich. (2005) and again at the StampShow in Hartford, Conn. (2008).
Since 1995, Nowlan was also certified as a national philatelic literature judge by the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada (RPSC).
In addition to his philatelic writing with CSN, he wrote a stamp column for The Daily Gleaner for several years and was also published in The Canadian Philatelist; The American Philatelist; Gibbons Stamp Monthly; and Gibbons International Stamp News.
In 2004, Nowlan was awarded a certificate of commendation by the American Philatelic Society’s Writers’ Unit #30 “in recognition of his efforts to publicize the hobby of stamp collecting in the non-philatelic press.”
In 2009, for his contributions to Canadian philately, Nowlan was inducted as a Fellow of the RPSC.
“It was an honour to be accepted by the philatelic community,” he told CSN in 2016. “Those things are nice to get – and totally unexpected – but it’s nice to be appreciated.”