Melvin Fowler Sr., of Wheatley Heights, with his wife, Lucinda.

Melvin Fowler Sr., of Wheatley Heights, with his wife, Lucinda. Credit: David Wayne Drake

Many a time, Melvin Fowler Sr. uttered the words “Did I ever tell you” and family members knew a life lesson was coming.

There was the time he closed his money-losing deli, M&S Country Market in Amityville — stick to one’s expertise was the lesson. As a kid, he got burned checking the gas level in his uncle’s car with the help of a lit match — gas fumes ignite, he later told children. He would say relationships founder when people declare “I don’t need you.”

“He would also often repeat the story the exact same way,” said nephew David Drake, of Melville. “That was how you knew it was true. … He took every little incident and created a teaching moment.”

Fowler, who retired as a Newsday printing press supervisor in 2001 after 16 years, was still learning from life shortly before he died March 1 due to complications from pneumonia. The Wheatley Heights resident was 84.

He operated printing presses for four decades at several companies, but opening his treasury of lessons and helping others was his lifelong mission, relatives said. When his only sister died, he adopted her teenage son, Drake. Obsessed with calculating winning lottery numbers, he won up to $50,000 a few times and dispensed the money to family and even plane passengers on flights to his Arizona winter home. He comforted and advised cancer victims after three-fourths of his cancerous right lung was removed in 2001, followed by surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2018, his family said.

Melvin Fowler Jr. remembers how his father urged him to take his name seriously by studying hard, not chasing the girls and addressing elders with respect.

“He would always say, ‘Don’t ever disrespect the name. Do right by it,’ ” said the son, of Las Vegas. “ ‘Otherwise I’ll change it.’ ”

Growing up in Freeport, Fowler Sr. was the eighth of nine children. A football player in high school, he watched his brothers’ football mistakes, earning a football scholarship to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and later guiding two sons into the NFL.

“He basically laid out the blueprint on how I would be able to go out and achieve my goal of potentially playing in the NFL,” said Melvin Jr., who played for the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and other teams.

Fowler’s father, a preacher, was also a tinkerer who invented and installed their home’s door bell — the neighborhood’s first, relatives said.

Absorbing such skills made Fowler a natural with fixing printing presses, said friend Lou LoPiccolo, who worked with Fowler at three different companies, including Newsday.

“He knew it from soup to nuts,” LoPiccolo said.

Married twice, Fowler met both wives about the same time at the same jazz club. He wed Beverly Chaffin in 1962, but it wasn’t until years later, when his marriage was dissolving, that he realized the other woman, Lucinda Walker, was the love of his life, family members said.

Fowler was walking past a photographer’s shop one day when he saw a photo of Walker posted on the window. After reconnecting with the photographer’s help, the two married in 1978.

The couple devoted their hearts and all their energy to their “love child,” Melvin Jr., including attending every one of his school and NFL games.

But Fowler learned a final lesson months ago, when he needed full-time care to recover from pneumonia and his family placed him at a rehabilitation center in Freeport, near his daughters.

Those last months were some of his richest as his older children visited daily, sometimes several times a day, making him realize he hadn’t spent quality time with his “first family,” his nephew said.

“At the end of his life, he valued everyone,” Drake said. “He had to share his love equally."

Besides his youngest son and nephew, he is survived by a brother, Alfred Fowler, of Hempstead; his children, Melvin Steven Fowler Sr., of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Blair Fowler, of Sydney, Australia, and Wendy Fowler, Aja Fowler and Donna Fowler, all of Freeport; stepsons, Kevin Walker, of Spotswood, New Jersey, and Darryl Walker, of Raleigh, North Carolina; and first wife, Beverly Fowler, of Freeport. His second wife, Lucinda Fowler, died in 2020.

A service was held March 16 at the Bethel AME Church in Freeport, followed by burial with Lucinda at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale.

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