In Memory

Geoff Cowley (Cowley)

1955 ~ 2014
Geoffrey Cowley, 59, died in New York City on October 14, 2014 from colon cancer. 
He was raised in Salt Lake City by his late mother, Patricia Beckstead Cowley and his adoptive father James Philip Cowley. Geoff graduated from Skyline High School in Salt Lake City in 1973 and earned degrees from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and the University of Washington in Seattle. 
Geoff was a gentle, humble man with a shining intellect and an open heart. Throughout his 30-year career as a journalist and public health advocate, he made science and medicine vividly accessible to general readers, while championing health as a human right. As Newsweek magazine's health editor - a post he held from 1988 through 2006 - he exhibited a special talent for simplifying complexity without sacrificing nuance. Whether he was explaining how memory works or reporting on health conditions in the world's poorest countries, he transformed facts into stories as engaging as they were learned. Later, as an associate New York City health commissioner, he helped the Bloomberg administration confront challenges ranging from HIV to smoking and obesity. More recently, as a national writer for, he deftly chronicled the long struggle to implement the Affordable Care Act. 
To Susan Pelzer, his wife of 30 years, Geoff was the light of the Universe gathered in a lifetime. To Colin Cowley, their 25 year-old son, Geoff was a loving father, supporter, friend and mentor, who consistently emphasized the value of curiosity and compassion. 
Geoff is survived by his wife, Susan, and their son, Colin Bernard Cowley, both of NYC; his father James Philip Cowley of Salt Lake City; his brother Collin George Cowley of Salt Lake City; and his sister, Linda Cowley Clark of Newport Beach, California. Geoff is also survived by many aunts, uncles, cousins and adoring nieces and nephews and his biological Jorgensen family as well as hundreds of devoted friends from around the world.
Geoff's family requests that any gifts in his honor be made to 

Doctors Without Borders;sz=1x1;ord=558417013? 


Published in Deseret News from Oct. 17 to Oct. 19, 2014

Geoffrey Cowley was dedicated to improving public understanding of health care. First as a journalist, then as a health official and advocate, and finally as a journalist again, he perfected the ability to explain complex medical issues and public policy to the widest possible audience.

Geoff was no fan of the populist end of health journalism. He had no patience for the medical scare story or the fad diet. He dismissed most of the political debate about health care reform as foolish and manipulative.

Instead he was one of the pioneers of smart, thoroughly reported, and gracefully written explanations of some of the biggest health stories of the last several decades: HIV/AIDS, neuroscience, poverty, and cancer.

Remembering Geoffrey Cowley, health expert, journalist and friend


An English graduate from Lewis and Clark College, and postgraduate from the University of Washington, Geoff started his journalism career at The Sciences magazine before moving to Newsweek. He worked at the news magazine for 18 years, through its heyday in the 1990s, covering medical science and health issues.

There he developed a key partnership with Harvard Medical School and managed blockbuster special editions on ambitious issues including ageing, and the medicine of the future. His 1997 work on early childhood language skills was at the heart of a White House conference hosted by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

His own feature writing was the epitome of the news magazine specialist: a fluid, finely paced prose that moved effortlessly from an accessible, colorful lead to a broad, sophisticated billboard that summarized why the reader needed to spend the time with his story.

Anyone who spent time with his stories came out the better for it. His epic 2006 special report on AIDS at 25 was his last major project for Newsweek and earned him a nomination for the National Magazine Award. (His AIDS coverage won a series of awards through the years, along with many other honors for his broader writing.) He was especially moved by global public health, and broke new ground writing about HIV in Rwanda and Black Fever in India.

He left Newsweek in 2006 to take his dedication to public health in another direction: as a practitioner. For four years he worked as an associate commissioner in New York City’s department of health, where he oversaw public communications in the Bloomberg administration. His notable campaigns included the phase-out of trans fats in restaurant food, the posting of calorie counts in food chains, high impact ads to combat smoking and obesity, and the launch of the iconic New York City condom.

After a brief stint working as a communications consultant, Geoff returned to journalism as one of the founding reporters of the new Here he specialized in the national debate over Obamacare, as well as the health impact of social inequality: from unwanted pregnancy to obesity and chronic disease.

Geoff was a mentor to many of the younger members of the msnbc team, as well as a wise and generous co-worker to his peers. He wrote extensively online and frequently shared his reporting and analysis on msnbc television. After six years out of the news media, he was delighted to be living as a journalist once again.

He approached his long encounters with cancer with the clear eyes of a medical expert, and the dogged spirit of a news reporter. He didn’t sugar coat the facts of his own health, even as he maintained an astonishing spirit of optimism and wonder. He passed away at home – close to his wife, son, and brother – on Tuesday morning. He was 59 years old.

At msnbc, Geoff Cowley will be missed for his professional judgment and his perfect prose. But above all, he will be missed for his honesty, his grace, and his good humor.

Enjoy some of Geoff’s best work:

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19/10/14 12:06 AM #1    

Bill Brough

This has been a sad year for me. Two of my musical allies during my high school years have passed away; first Mary Pinegar Halterman, and now Geoff Cowley.

Geoff and I were officers together in the Folk Club, and like Mary he also was a member of the chorus in our production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In fact, just today I was singing one of the songs from Alice in a rehearsal for a performance I'm doing next month, and I choked up when I realized it was the song that Geoff sang in the show. He had a very distinctive voice and I never sing that song without thinking of his phrasing. News of his passing having reached me earlier this week, the timing of that coincidence was a bit too much for me.

I was always impressed with Geoff at Skyline because he was obviously very smart, but also very good-natured and easy to get along with. He was genuine and likeable, and a good friend. Years later, I remember buying a copy of Newsweek magazine that contained an article written by a Geoffrey Cowley, who was listed in the credit as Health Editor. That was pretty cool! And so, as an adult, I found myself impressed again with Geoff.

We got in touch with each other through Facebook many years later, and I so enjoyed renewing our acquaintance after all this time. I made a point of complimenting him on his career and letting him know that I had enjoyed reading his stories through the years. He was very self-effacing about his success and instead made a point of praising me and letting me know that he still had great memories of performing in Alice all those years ago. That kind of modesty tells you a ton about Geoff.

I have added a picture from the yearbook that he scanned and posted to my Facebook page as a memento of our friendship. He commented on our hair back in the day by telling me to celebrate "how magnificently hirsute we were." That's how writers talk! It made me laugh to think he might have learned that word in high school reading "30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary."

My heart goes out to Geoff's family. It's been clear in reading Geoff's obituary and some of the comments I've seen them make on Facebook how much he was loved by them. They should know that he was loved by his friends as well.

14/02/15 12:27 AM #2    

Jay Rice

Bill, What a great picture of you two! So nostalgic! What a successful career Geoff had. It's fun to read about all us old duffers and what amazing accomplishments most have made over the years. Go Eagles!

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