Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Tribute to Rowena Fullinwider

On July 22, 2013 Rowena Fullinwider, founder of Rowena’s Gourmet Foods, passed away. She was a pioneer in the specialty food business, a tireless advocate for local and small businesses, an inspiration for women business owners for 30 years and most importantly, a wonderful and caring person.

We’d like to share with you some highlights from her obituary in the Virginia Pilot Online: In the early 1980s, Rowena began to explore the possibility of starting her own business. Already known for making pound cakes to donate to various charities for their fundraisers - she was encouraged by friends and family to open a business to sell the cakes on a larger scale. In 1983, she opened Rowena's Gourmet Foods in the historic Ghent section of Norfolk. Word spread quickly about her delicious cakes, jams and curds, and soon Rowena's Gourmet Foods was being featured in Southern Living, Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetit, as well as on the Food Network. In 1987, Rowena's became the first specialty food producer in Virginia to carry the Virginia's Finest® trademark.

When asked in later years about her reasons for starting a business, Rowena said that she wanted to teach her children a few of life's lessons. "I needed my children to know that I not only stood for something, but that I also acted on it," she says. "You have to be a responsible business citizen and a responsible community citizen."

In terms of such responsible citizenship, Rowena made an indelible mark on Norfolk's social and professional landscapes. As well as running her own successful business, she served on several boards (including as president of the local National Association of Women Business Owners in 1996-97). She successfully lobbied Congress to help small businesses receive an exemption from the National Labeling and Education Act of 1990; served as chairman of the Governor's Small Business Advisory Board for six years; and was a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business in 1995, serving as the co-chair for the Regulation and Paperwork Reduction committee. Rowena and her company were able to win numerous awards over the years, including the coveted Blue Chip Enterprise Award in 1994, and the Women Business Advocate Award for Virginia and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Small Business Administration in 2004.

In terms of community service, Rowena always believed that those who give back to the community will be rewarded abundantly. For many years, she was particularly involved with the Girl Scouts of America, as well as with the charity For Kids, a private agency whose mission is to "Break the cycle of family homelessness". At the same time, she mentored other women business owners, donated considerable time and product to charities.

Rowena recently sold Rowena's to local businessman, John McCormick, who is proud of the legacy she left behind; Rowena’s Kitchen will continue to honor her memory and commitment to outstanding service, gourmet foods and a healthy and vibrant local economy.