Cover photo for Rachel Davis Fowlkes's Obituary
Rachel Davis Fowlkes Profile Photo
1945 Rachel 2023

Rachel Davis Fowlkes

January 29, 1945 — April 1, 2023


Rachel Gayle Davis Fowlkes of Abingdon, Virginia, died on April 1, 2023, at Johnston Memorial Hospital following a stroke. She was surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and several close family friends.

Rachel is survived by her daughter Merrill Fowlkes Hoopengardner, son John Templeton Fowlkes, son-in-law Andrew John Hoopengardner, daughter-in-law Alena Dubavaya, grandchildren Eleanor Gayle Hoopengardner, Claire Elizabeth Hoopengardner, and Marvin Alan Fowlkes, brother Tommy Davis, sisters-in-law Frances Davis and Janine Davis, and several nieces and nephews and their children. She was preceded in death by her father, John T. Davis, mother, Elizabeth Watts Davis, and brother, Robert Davis.

A visionary leader and educator, Rachel was born on January 29, 1945, in Meridian, Mississippi, and was the first woman in her family to pursue higher education. She graduated from Millsaps College where she was a member of the Millsaps Singers, active as a Chi Omega, and was a varsity cheerleader. She went on to earn a masters from Mississippi State University and a doctorate in education from the University of Virginia. She moved to Abingdon in 1969 with her then-husband, John Thomas Fowlkes (Tom) and was a longtime resident on Main Street.

Rachel touched many students’ lives as an elementary school classroom teacher, a special education teacher, and the supervisor for special education for Washington County. After completing her doctoral work, she shifted her professional focus to post-secondary education and became the director of University of Virginia’s division of continuing education in Southwest Virginia and then the state coordinator of UVA’s education programs.

Recognizing that education and economic development were critical for the region and that Southwest Virginians needed access to multiple higher education resources, Rachel was one of the visionaries behind the creation of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center where she served as the founding executive director and state agency head for twenty-four years before her retirement in 2015. Under her leadership, the center partnered with 10 colleges and universities throughout the state to offer advanced degrees, provide professional development conferences and seminars, and host regional economic development events.

As evidenced by her license plate, CR8JOBS, Rachel believed deeply that higher education would create greater economic opportunity for residents of the region. She was an early adopter and promoter of technological innovations in education, first through satellite TV and later through internet connectivity. She put tens of thousands of miles on her car traveling across the region, listening carefully to the needs of businesses and students, and crafting programs and strategies to bridge the gaps.

Rachel was a beloved and engaged member of the community. She was an active member of the Rotary Club, a member of the Session at Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church, a faithful patron of the Abingdon Farmer’s Market, a frequent volunteer at Ecumenical Faith in Action, and a season ticket holder at the Barter Theater. She was an avid reader, traveler, and self-described “life-long learner” who enjoyed spending time gardening on her patio, walking Plumb Alley with friends, drinking coffee and spoiling dogs with Diane Graham, and renewing herself at her farm in Alvarado, Virginia, where she built two unique treehouses overlooking the Virginia Creeper Trail.

She was an insightful and dedicated board member for multiple local and regional organizations including the Creeper Trail Advisory Committee, Johnston Memorial Hospital, Johnston Memorial Healthcare Foundation, Virginia Commission of Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment, Appalachian Regional Commission’s Export Trade Advisory Committee, SW Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission, Town of Abingdon’s Economic Development Authority, Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator Board, Wellspring Foundation, Radford University Board of Visitors, and Radford University Foundation.

The family of Rachel Fowlkes is being cared for by Farris Funeral Service & Crematory, 427 East Main Street, Abingdon, VA 24210, (276) 623-2700.

Rachel’s family will receive friends at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Virginia, on Wednesday, April 5th from 4-6 PM. Funeral Services will be on Thursday, April 6th, at 10 AM at Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church and a reception will follow the service in the church parlor.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Ecumenical Faith in Action, P.O. Box 2419, Abingdon, VA 24212.

To order memorial trees in memory of Rachel Davis Fowlkes, please visit our tree store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Wednesday, April 5, 2023

4:00 - 6:00 pm (Eastern time)

Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center

One Partnership Circle, Abingdon, VA 2410

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Memorial Service

Thursday, April 6, 2023

10:00 - 11:00 am (Eastern time)

Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church

136 East Main Street, Abingdon, VA 24210

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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