JAMES COWEN / 1925-2005

TheBus thrived under
manager’s leadership

James E. Cowen, who served for 13 years as president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services, died Tuesday evening at Straub Hospital.


James Cowen: He had a history of successes with various transportation endeavors

Many of Cowen's close friends and associates had gathered in his hospital room on Saturday, a day before his 80th birthday, senior vice president Roger Morton said.

Cowen, who suffered from numerous health problems, was admitted to the hospital about 10 days ago, Morton said.

"James Cowen transformed Honolulu's TheBus into a world-class transit system," said Anthony Guerrero Jr., chairman of Oahu Transit's board of directors. "He provided leadership and guidance to TheBus at a critical time, yet he always credited his employees for the successes TheBus achieved."

During his tenure, Oahu Transit was named America's Best Transit System in 1994 and 2000.

"I credit Jim's leadership at TheBus as instrumental in helping Honolulu being twice named America's Best Transit System," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said.

Before working in Hawaii, Cowen was general manager of the transit system in Portland, Ore., which also received the America's Best Transit System honor during his tenure.

"He was a giant in our industry," American Public Transportation Association President William Millar said. "No other transit manager has ever received APTA's Outstanding System award three times."

Cowen was a member of the APTA board of directors, served as chairman in 1988 and 1989, and received the association's highest honor, the Jessie L. Haugh award, in 1990.

Cowen was born July 17, 1925, in Dallas but lived most of his life in the Pacific Basin. After serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II, he became director of United Airlines operations in San Francisco and Greyhound Bus Line operations in several Western states. In 1970, Cowen started and served as the first chief executive officer of Korea Greyhound Ltd., a bus company in Korea.

Two years later, Cowen returned to the United States to head the transit division in San Francisco. In 1978 he became general manager of Portland's transit division and oversaw the planning and construction of the city's Max light-rail system.

After moving to Hawaii in 1992, Cowen became an active participant in the Hawaii Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity Alumni Association. He also served on the board of Aloha Council-Boy Scouts of America and board of advisers of the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division, Salvation Army.

"There has been an outpour of people expressing their condolences," said Morton, who noted that the phones had been ringing all day long.

Cowen is survived by brother Charles Cowen of California. Funeral services are pending.

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