By Richard Weizel

STAFF WRITER

FAIRFIELD — Longtime Realtor Ralph A. Bowley, 66, a Republican member of Fairfield’s Board of Selectmen, died Saturday after a nine-month battle with cancer, the second time a selectman on the three-member panel has succumbed to the illness in less than two years.

Democrat Denise Dougiello, 53, died in July 2008 of breast cancer, having served on the Board of Selectmen from 2001 until her resignation just days before hear death.

Bowley, who was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2007, was considered a fiscal conservative with a passion for Fairfield, and had been a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals for about a decade, those who know him said Saturday night. He was also involved in numerous town and civic affairs for many years.

Both Republicans and Democrats praised Bowley as someone who cared deeply for the community, and was working on vital Fairfield issues until just over a week ago.

“It’s a very sad today for us — again,” said Democratic First Selectman Kenneth Flatto. “We had our annual budget vote about 10 days ago, and despite being very, very ill, Ralph voted by phone and participated and spoke out about the budget during that session. I think that symbolized his dedication and passion for the town. He was a very dynamic guy.”

Flatto said he is in shock and “deeply saddened” to lose a second member of the board in less than two years.

“It’s really unbelievable that on a three-member board, we are going through this for the second time just a year and a half after losing Denise (Dougiello),” Flatto said. “Our deepest sympathy goes out to Ralph’s wife (Deborah) and the rest of his family.”

Flatto said that while serving on the Board of Selectmen for 15 years, 11 as first selectman, the current panel that also includes Democratic Selectman Sherri Steeneck “has been very special to me. We have worked well together, and have shown civility can be part of town government despite party differences.”

Steeneck said last August, when Bowley was diagnosed, that she has known him since she served on the Zoning Board of Appeals with him more than 20 years ago, calling him “one tough guy” who would fight to beat the illness.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Baldwin said Bowley did fight hard to beat it, and that his death is a crushing blow to the town and his party.

“We lost a great man today, a gentleman who was mild-mannered and caring,” Baldwin said. “He was a champion of common sense and good government. We will miss him, and Fairfield will miss him. Our deepest and sincere condolences go out to his family ... and heartfelt thanks to Ralph for all he has done for us.

“He’s been kind of Mr. Fairfield, a real estate appraiser who knew so many people the way the town operated,” Baldwin said. “Both he and Denise were terrific, dedicated Fairfielders who served their town and they left us much too soon.”

Town Clerk Betsy Browne, a Republican, said Bowley’s death “is a great loss for the town of Fairfield. Ralph had a particularly deep and great knowledge of the town, and worked so well with the two other selectmen

“I’m going to miss a very dear friend, a very classy guy,” Browne said.

Browne said the two selectmen have 30 days to select a successor, and he or she must be a member of the same political party as Bowley. If they cannot reach a decision, a special election would be held in November.

Flatto said flags in town will fly at half-staff for several days. While no final arrangements were yet available Saturday night, Browne said the Spear-Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield is handling the arrangements. A wake and funeral will be held later in the week, she said.

Bowley is also survived by two adult daughters, Shannon, who served on the RTM a few years ago, and Jill, Browne said.