Memorial: Cliff Fowler

A beautiful person and amazing clinician has passed into legend

It is with a heavy and sad heart that I inform you all of the passing of my dearest, closest friend Cliff Fowler. Cliff peacefully passed away early morning Saturday 23rd of October.

My relationship with Cliff began in 1974 when I went on an acupuncture course he was teaching in Kingston, Ontario. I was immediately taken in by his unique clinical charisma and knowledge. We bonded on that course and became close friends and kindred spirits for the next 47 years.

It was an inescapable fact that Cliff was an innate innovator. New clinical ideas and philosophies seemed to flow effortlessly from his brain and this energy was to overflow into people like myself, Diane Lee, Jim Meadows, Carol Kennedy and so many others. He was certainly the energy behind Canada’s clinical ‘innovative years’ between 1974 and 1994. During this time, along with his lifelong buddies David Lamb and John Oldham they developed the cervical and lumbar “Scanning examinations” which would become the foundations of the assessment procedures within the Canadian Orthopaedic Division.

I moved to Abbotsford BC in 1978 and we became neighbors in the same town. So, for the next 43 years we could work together clinically, research together and socialise together. Cliff had an inexhaustible appetite for thinking and talking about manual therapy. Our wives quickly banned us from discussing work when we went out for dinner. As recently as a month ago he was explaining to me how he believed the biomechanics of the SIJ was completely different in weight bearing and non-weight bearing. He sometimes exhausted my brain with his developing ideas. What a wonderful mind!

I am sure Cliff will be referred to as one of our clinical ‘giants’, as indeed he was. I prefer to look at him as a clinical force. A force that would forever change an entire generation of orthopaedic manual therapists in the United States and Canada. Through those of us fortunate enough to have him as our mentor that force will continue to influence future generations to come.

My sincerest condolences go out to his wife Pat, sons Rick, Dave and wife Kelly, and grandkids.

And now, the hardest words I have ever had to write, “Goodbye my friend. A part of my heart has gone with you”.

– Erl Pettman

Cliff Fowler

Tributes to Cliff

I met Cliff Fowler in early 1982 when I travelled to BC to participate in the first long course the ‘3 Month Manual Therapy Course’ run by the Orthopaedic Division. A really imaginative name for a course wasn’t it! But the crowd of instructors which included Cliff along with John Oldham, Erl Pettman, Diane Lee … was imaginative and made this course exceptional.

Cliff was an amazing lecturer, challenging and pushing you to your limits, but always kind and supportive. And so much fun! Our best sessions were always at the bar on Friday nights where we would discuss the world of physiotherapy with an ample flow of beer. He always had these questions that he would give you to report back on (eg: name all the tissues that attach into the head of the fibula), so you would spend all evening researching the answer (not an easy feat back then) and often it was a trick question, but you sure did learn. He had all sorts of innovative ideas about interventions and developed many different modifications of techniques. I often refer to him as the Father of Manual Therapy in Canada. And Cliff knew how to develop Therapeutic Alliance with his patients even before that term was coined. He was a people person and worked with them to move forward, always motivating and encouraging them along the way. I worked with Cliff when I moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg and got to learn from watching him in action!

Over the years, Cliff gave me and so many other physiotherapists so much of himself to mentor us into the best physiotherapists, instructors and examiners that we could be. I owe him a ton. It was because of what he (and others that he had influenced) gave me that encouraged me to give back with the mentorship I have tried to share over my career.

The Canadian Orthopaedic Division owes this man so much, I know I certainly do. He will be missed but I know he will carry on in so many of us and those that follow us. A wonderful man. Cliff was 82 years old. Below is a photo Diane had sent me from this past summer when we had tried to get together for lunch but I had to bail.

– Carol Kennedy


I echo Carol’s wonderful tribute to Cliff. He came to Toronto and London to teach some of the first Manual Therapy courses in the late 1970’s . I was lucky enough to be on those courses and thus began a student, mentee and peer and friend relationship with Cliff that latest for over 30 years. He will be missed.

– Beverly Padfield


Cliff Fowler – my reflections on his life, our journey and his passing

I am lost for words, when usually they come easy. The ones that come are not enough to express what Cliff meant and still means to my physiotherapy career, my relationships to others and myself. Yes he was my mentor. What does that mean? Initially, as a 26 year old confused, conflicted, physiotherapist who was ready to quit this profession, I saw in Cliff a different path for physiotherapy. One that required the ability to listen to a story, to assess the entire person, not just a part, to have strong clinical reasoning skills, and to be able to use one’s hands appropriately. I aspired to be like him in those years, since I had none of those skills, but I had a desire to follow his path. I once watched a clinical session during which he merely appeared to hold this elderly woman and rock her thorax until she felt better. I asked ‘What was that about?’ He merely shrugged and said “She needed a hug, her husband died recently”. He had the intuitive ability to just know what to do without appearing to have to figure anything out. How did he mentor? He didn’t tell you what to do, he didn’t try to ‘fix’ anything, he merely illuminated the path to change in his own way, by getting you to actually figure it out. This applied to physiotherapy, relationships, as well as getting a new hip. With confidence, he just knew, and many times I relied on this knowing. Some people cross our paths, they stay for a while and then leave, while others arrive and never go. They may not be physically present every day but they are always there, in the background, somehow guiding, somehow illuminating the path, always available when needed. He’s gone, but still present. His legacy lives on through the many lives he touched, the many careers he facilitated, and the many people he inspired. He set a high standard but at the same time didn’t want anyone to be like him, he wanted you to be the best version of you that was possible. That is what it means to be a mentor – to inspire and facilitate the path of others. I’ve aspired to be all he inspired in me. Now it is up to us to keep his legacy alive and honour the beautiful person and amazing clinician he was and the legend he will become. It was, and is, a privilege and honour to call Cliff Fowler my mentor, and good friend and like Erl “A part of my heart has gone with you” and I’ll add “I hope you don’t mind that I kept part of yours with me”.

– Diane Lee


Cliff was one of those souls who touched everyone with his keen intelligence, witty banter and kindness. He struck me as someone who didn’t take himself too seriously and yet he was very passionate about manual therapy and passed that onto the next generation who then, like a ripple effect, inspired another generation of amazing therapists. Cliff was the one who convinced me to do my advanced exams when I wasn’t sure I was cut out for that. I remember that he took me aside during one of our cocktail parties at some symposium and told me that the reason I didn’t get an “exceptional pass” ( or whatever they called that in those days) during my “Part A’s” was that I had to be more confident of my skills and not be afraid to shine. He saw right through me…

He will be missed.

– Doreen Killens


I am very deeply moved by the positive ripple, or should I say tidal wave of effects that he has made across the country and the globe. I have smiled and shed tears as I read through these tributes to this foundational pillar of our profession … he had an amazing gravitas when he was physically with us in the room and he continues to do that now from his new plane of existence as I can clearly see that his spirit, soul, energy and passion is enveloping us all … uniting us, hugging us, challenging us, encouraging us to move onwards and to always strive to be passionate, empathetic and curious within ourselves and with those around us. May we all always nurture and carry Cliff with us throughout our life’s journey and beyond. Thank you Cliff for the great gifts you have given us all and continue to give us moving forward. May you and Dave be having a beverage together now and toasting along with us, as we toast to you!

Hugs and love to you all …

– Lorrie Maffey


I was partnered with Cliff on a Laurie Hartman course and struggled to manipulate his thoracic spine and he made me laugh when he told me to put my back in to it and push harder. He had a very cheeky and funny side and I remember Greg Bay modelling for some pictures for me for the lower extremity book while wearing a thong that Cliff gave him as a joke, it never did make it in to the book…

– May Nolan


Although I did not have the opportunity to be taught by Cliff directly, I was made well aware of his clinical expertise when I took the long course in BC in 1995. I have greatly benefited from his mentees- Diane and Carol in particular.

I was fortunate enough to meet Cliff and Erl with their partners at IFOMPT in Quebec and have a bit of social time. In the conversation we had, it was clear their idea of evidence based practise strongly relied on the capacity of the Physio’s expertise- in skill and literature interpretation. Their passion for Physio was undeniable.

My heart is heavy as we say goodbye to a Canadian manual therapist leader and my thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends.

– Rhonda Reardon


My heartfelt sympathy and condolences to all of you who knew Cliff so well. I was extremely saddened to hear the news and can’t imagine the grief that some of you have.💔💔. I appreciated and needed the tributes all of you have shared. It helped take away the sadness and make me realize how blessed I was to have had a few beers with Cliff over the years.
I had been the model and assistant to Erl on many of courses( a real PLEASURE) so because I was a friend of Erl’s I was instantly accepted by Cliff. As has been said what a passionate, knowledgeable, and friendly person that listened and made you feel welcome. On the second beer he asked me which structures attached to the 2nd rib? That was the only year I was smart and after answering I asked him if I was correct. He laughed and said “ I think so but this is the way I become smarter”😏
The funniest story that he told me was his personal experience with checking Michael Warelycko( sp) pelvic levels in the men’s washroom before giving a talk and presentation when “he got caught “. Erl will have to share as he is a better storyteller.
Every time I taught my Pelvic Outlet course I would fondly think about Cliff and the great man he was.
When we talked about his good friend David Lamb he told me that there will continue to be retirements and losses but the beauty of the ripple effect is the young, skilled and confident people like Physiotherapists on this list will continue but also BUILD on the growth of Orthopaedic Physiotherapy.
Cliff was a “guru, legend and on a pedestal” and yet he never acted this way and from what many of you noted he passed this on to you that desire and passion to be good mentors. You should all know that you are AND will be appreciated for your achievements whether big or small. I have had the privilege of knowing the majority of you and you should be VERY proud of yourself for your unique personalities and what you have brought to the strong and wonderful Orthopaedic community, but continue to be humble like Cliff.
I hope Cliff will also be remembered by future generations with an award and/or scholarship but that can be  organized after some of the numbness and pain subsides.
Hugs and Love to all from a distance,
– Murray MacHutchon


I felt a lot of sadness when I heard about Cliff passing away. My first thoughts went for his very close friend & colleague Erl as well as all those who were directly mentored by Cliff, especially Diane & Carol and many others.
This is a big loss for our small community of instructors and examiners in Canada! I have never had the chance to be taught by Cliff but it is through Erl’s & David Lamb’s teaching that I learned about his great contribution to our world of manual therapy in Canada.
I will always remember how proud he was when he received the 1st Golden Hands Award which was given to him at the Orthopedic Symposium in 1998 in Montréal. Cliff had always been close to David Lamb so we knew how much that award meant to him, considering that it was in memory of David’s contribution to the world of OMT.
Thank you to everyone who shared their messages.
– Elaine Maheu