Deborah Dowdell, the president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, died March 2 at the age of 46. The 22-year association executive had been battling cancer.
A tireless supporter of New Jersey’s foodservice and hospitality industry, Dowdell’s motto was “Dine out often — you deserve it.”
She joined the staff of the NJRA in 1990 as director of membership, and was promoted to executive vice president and then president in 2003.
During her tenure at the association, Dowdell established alliances with other associations, helping to influence business, tax, liquor licensing, labor and food safety policy. She also oversaw the acquisition and renovation of the NJRA’s headquarters, The Hospitality House, across from the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.
In 2009 Dowdell was chosen to serve on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s transition, as a member of the Economic Development and Growth subcommittee. She also was vice president of the New Jersey Travel Industry Association, secretary/treasurer of the Council of State Restaurant Associations, and a trustee of ArtPride New Jersey.
The NJRA board in 2010 honored her with its Gold Plate Award for 20 years of service.
Dowdell was born in San Francisco and traveled widely as a child, living in North Africa and the Caribbean, before moving to Somerset, N.J. She graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service with a degree in political science.
She is survived by her husband, Phillip, her mother and stepfather, Vivienne Roy-Brown and Frank Brown, and her sister, Michelle Roy.
“This is a tremendous loss for the association, its members, New Jersey’s small business community and most especially, Deborah’s family,” said NJRA chairman Jack Koumbis.
“She was a strong and influential leader and advocate for the restaurant community, a great friend and mentor to her colleagues and loving wife to her husband, Phillip.”
NJRA board members and staff will assume Dowdell’s association responsibilities temporarily.
Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected].