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    Posted December 16, 2009

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Actors' Equity Mourns Passing of Conard Fowkes

Former Secretary/Treasurer and VITA Co-Founder Assisted Thousands of AEA Members

Conard Fowkes and the VITA Volunteers

Conard Fowkes, a long-time Secretary/Treasurer of Actors' Equity Association and a Co-Founder of VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) passed away on December 14, 2009.

Conard Fowkes was elected to Equity's Council in 1973, and served as the Association's Secretary/Treasurer from 1988 until May, 2009. He also co-founded VITA (AEA's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program) in 1977 where he assisted thousands of AEA members with their income taxes. Fowkes' advocacy also led to the creation of the Qualified Performing Artist deduction in the Federal Tax Code in 1986.

Carol Waaser, AEA's Acting Executive Director said: "Today, we are tremendously saddened by the passing of our dedicated and esteemed colleague and Councillor, Conard Fowkes. As AEA's long-time Secretary/Treasurer and Co-Founder of VITA, his work has touched the lives of thousands of our members in countless ways. He knew the challenges that actors and stage managers faced and worked tirelessly to improve their circumstances. Conard always brought wit and charm to our board room and will be sorely missed. We wish to extend our condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time."

Fowkes, whose father was a naval officer and whose mother encouraged his study of the theatrical arts, followed both paths successfully. First, he was a member of the second graduating class of New York's High School of Performing Arts and, having won a 4-year Navy scholarship to Yale, he majored in history and the arts and letters. Thus were his loves of the theatre and the Navy forever entwined. While at Yale, Fowkes made a student movie of The Pardners Tale, appeared in The Birds, was Dink Stover and a member of the Dramat, Mory's, The Pundits and the Elizabethan Club. He continued to enjoy a joyous 55-year relationship with the members of his Senior Society, Elihu 1954. After graduation, he served three years as Communications Officer and Cryptographer aboard the aircraft carrier, Saratoga.

Returning to New York after the Navy, Fowkes began his professional career as an actor and never looked back. In 1958, he made his Broadway debut in HOWIE, got his Equity card and, years later, can be counted among the few members of Equity or any other performing arts union who can boast of a lifelong career solely through employment as an actor. Working in all media - theatre, television, film and radio - Connie became one of the industry's more recognizable presences. As a veteran stage and screen actor, he worked in all facets of the entertainment industry and was a contract player on eight different soap operas, including As The World Turns, Search For Tomorrow, and The Edge of Night, as well as numerous episodes of the cult series, Dark Shadows. All the while he was forging a career as a performer, Conard was rearing three daughters, who have gone on to be accomplished in their own rights in the arts, in academia and in management.

Conard Fowkes accepting the "Molly" (Patrick Quinn Award) from Sandra Karas

His union service is as extensive as his theatrical biography. During his 36 years on Council, Conard chaired or served on numerous committees, including House Affairs, LORT (League of Resident Theatres) Film, Recording and Pay TV, Investment and the National Plenary. He also served as Treasurer for the Actors' Equity Foundation and Actors' Equity Holding Corporation and was a Vice-Chair of the Staff Pension Plan Trustees. He served on the LORT Negotiating Team in 1984, 1985 and 1988.

In 2009, Conard received the Patrick Quinn Award for Distinguished Service to Actors, which recognizes and rewards those who give of themselves to improve the lives of actors. Among the remarks in her tribute, Sandra Karas, Equity's newly-elected Secretary-Treasurer wrote:

"What would arguably become his most notable and enduring contribution to our Union was the founding of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program - VITA - with Michael Enserro and Schorling Schneider in 1977. The VITA program at Actors' Equity continued largely because of Connie's efforts and the band of oddball, stalwart volunteers he cajoled into service. Of signal importance was the successful Congressional lobbying campaign in 1986 to include theatrical artists in the Internal Revenue Code for the first time in its history. Fowkes was part of Equity's delegation, along with representatives from SAG and AFTRA, resulting in landmark legislation, recognizing our members' work and creating a special provision for low-income performers. He returned from Washington with the brand new Code 62 (a)(2)(B) Qualified Performing Artist provision under his arm, allowing an above-the-line deduction for our members' expenses. This provision returned its investment in the first year, giving relief to those in our industry who struggle with the vagaries of plying their artistic trade. Since that momentous occasion, and in the more than three decades of his VITA service, Conard Fowkes, with VITA, has saved his fellow actors and stage managers literally millions of dollars. He was happy to teach every actor and stage manager he helped, but insisted that each took the lesson to heart. His professorial style in imparting the secrets of the Code was driven purely by his passion for getting it right. Anyone who knew Conard Fowkes knew that this and his love for his fellow union members are what drove him to set such high standards for us and for himself. Despite his battle and loss to pancreatic cancer, his mantra remained, 'The best is yet to be'."

Conard Fowkes is survived by former actress, Jacqueline Hernly, his wife of 52 years of Manhattan and Milford, CT; his daughters, Cly Fowkes of Manhattan; Amy Fowkes (Massimo Neri) of Florence, Italy; and Katherine Fowkes (Pranab Das) of High Point, NC; his 8-year-old grandson, Matteo Neri; and a sister, Diane Zellers of Jacksonville, Florida.

Contributions may be made to the Actors' Equity Foundation, 165 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036. Please indicate that the contribution is for the VITA program.

New York Times Guest Book for Conard Fowkes

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