William Watlington Dow was born 15 February 1945 in Middletown, Ohio, and grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. He received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Vanderbilt University, attended Vanderbilt Medical School, and was graduated in 1971. Dow interned at the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1972, where he also served his residency from 1973-1975.
In 1969, Dow helped form the Student Health Coalition. Dow was a key figure in the establishment of other student health coalitions throughout the south. He acted as advisor to the Alabama Student Health Coalition, he co-founded the North Carolina Rural Student Health Coalition (both University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke chapters), and was involved in the creation of similar coalitions in Georgia and Texas. Dow also convened the first regional student health coalition conference in 1978.
Dow was an important figure in the organization of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Health Services, the center which ultimately absorbed the Student Health Coalition. Dow served on the university committee which recommended the establishment of the Center for Health Services, he served as the Center’s director from 1975 to 1976, and as Co-Director for Development in 1977.
In the mid-1970s, Dow began to focus his attention on nutrition, especially on the availability of healthy food as a principal determinant for a number of medical outcomes. This shift in focus was informed by observations made while working with the Student Health Coalition within rural Appalachian communities and experiences from his pediatric residency. In 1975, Dow worked with John Vlcek and Lindsay Jones to develop a new organization called the Agricultural Marketing Project with the goal of setting up food fairs, or farmers’ markets, throughout Tennessee. The project successfully established farmers’ markets in Memphis, Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and other locations in the state. Dow applied this new model to help set up a similar project (also called the Agricultural Marketing Project) at the University of Alabama; then in 1978, working with Laura Heise, he founded the North Carolina Agricultural Marketing Project with the same goal. The North Carolina Agricultural Marketing Project ultimately led to the formation of what is now the Carrboro (N.C.) Farmers’ Market. In 1978, Dow earned a fellowship with the Vanderbilt Medical School Department of Medical Administration, a fellowship in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
In 1979, Dow co-founded the Solar Greenhouse Employment Project with Paul Konove, which lasted until 1984. Around 1980, Dow decided to become a full-time farmer, and bought a 30-acre farm outside of Pittsboro, N.C., which he named Ayrshire Farm. Ayrshire became the first certified organic farm in North Carolina. Throughout Dow’s career, he was involved in a wide range of environmental and political issues: he helped organize the East Tennessee Research Corporation and Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM), he served on the (N.C.) Governor’s Waste Management Task Force and the Chatham County Planning Board, and helped start the Committee for Solar and Appropriate Technology for Orange County, NC.
Dow died on 4 December 2012 in Pittsboro, N.C.