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Katie Cowles Nichols

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May 19, 1940 - February 2, 2024


Katie Cowles Nichols, 83, of Sarasota, Fla. and Ménerbes, France, passed away on Feb. 2, 2024. While on an airplane flying to see her youngest daughter, she suffered a stroke and quickly passed into a coma. Her last moments were of laughter with a favorite traveling companion, Noah Strauss-Jenkins. 

Katie was born in Des Moines on May 19, 1940, to Gardner “Mike” Cowles and Lois Thornburg Cowles. Her father was a newspaper publisher and the founder and publisher of Look magazine. She is a granddaughter to one of Algona’s founders.

As a child, she moved to New York City with her mother, where she attended the Brearley School. For high school she went to the Madiera School. She later went to Cornell University, where she studied Fine Arts. There, she met her first husband, Julian Strauss. They had three daughters, Tilly, Gwen and Annie. The family traveled extensively and lived overseas in both Haiti and Malaysia. Katie took to their adventures abroad with flair and ease and never lost her life-long passion for travel. 

In 1971, when Katie and Julian divorced, she moved with her daughters to Lakeland, Fla. and later to Tallahassee, Fla. where Katie dedicated herself to politics and public service. In Tallahassee, she married Roger Nichols, known for his work in Florida education, working as staff director for Education Commissioner Ralph Turlington. Dr. Nichols was also a former tennis pro and doubles partner with Bobby Riggs.

Katie was active in the Florida Democratic Party and a staunch defender of women’s rights including the ERA and reproductive freedom. From 1981 to 1989 she was a commissioner and served as Chairwoman on the Florida Public Service Commission, a period of her life that she recalled with great pride.

In 1982 she married Harold ‘Buz’ Rummel. Together they lived in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Mobile, Ala. She continued to travel extensively, often taking members of her family along. Her grandchildren experienced life-altering voyages to Haiti, Antigua, the Galapagos, Europe, Africa, among many other places. She built a wonderful beach house on Tierra Verde Island, Fla. where the family gathered for holidays. Katie welcomed everyone with abundance.

She was known for her talented storytelling, recounting the past with a lively sense of humor. If she exaggerated a little bit, it was masterfully to make a better story. She wrote witty descriptive letters full of her wry insights. But her single best quality was her generosity. Everywhere she went and lived, she touched lives and never hesitated to extend help when needed. She unfailingly was ready in an emergency, wherever in the world. She started schools, gave scholarships, helped with small businesses, offered loans she would later forgive, paid for rehab, and bailed friends out of jail—Katie’s warmth and generosity extended far beyond her immediate family. As much as she loved to weave a good tale, she kept humble about how much and how often she was giving to others.

For the last decade, she spent much of her time in Provence, France with her daughter Gwen and grandchildren. The family was able to celebrate her 80th birthday, a little late due to Covid, last summer in Ménerbes.

Katie was a supporter of Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti for over 60 years. She was a member of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) where she was specifically invested in juvenile justice reform. She was a member of the League of Women’s Voters, NOW, and a founding member of Emily’s List. She was a trustee of The Cowles Charitable Trust, which was established by her father to promote education, social justice, health and the arts.

Katie was predeceased by her parents and her sisters; Lois Harrison and Jane Cowles; and her brother Gardner ‘Pat’ Cowles III. She is survived by her sister Virginia Cowles Schroth, her children, Elizabeth ‘Tilly’ Strauss, Gwen Strauss, Kate ‘Annie’ Long, Lise Charlier, as well as grandchildren, Kent and Max Grossi, Noah, Sophie and Eliza Strauss-Jenkins, Cedric and Emmanuelle Charlier, and step-children, nieces, nephews and friends.

Donations in her honor may be made to Hospital Albert Schweitzer.

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