Jessica Hammill Cowling, 31, founder of Internet cookie firm

July 09, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Jessica Hammill Cowling, who during her two-year struggle with cancer founded Sleepy Badger Brands, an Internet cookie company, and helped other cancer sufferers, died of breast cancer Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 31.

Born in Lynchburg, Va., and raised in Painesville, Ohio, and Cincinnati, Miss Cowling moved in 1984 with her family to Federal Hill, then to Rodgers Forge.

She was a 1988 graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts and in 1992 earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Miss Cowling had worked as a sales associate at The Bead in the Rotunda for several years, and was office manager for Davis Designs when her breast cancer was diagnosed.

After leaving the Canton graphics company because of failing health, she established Sleepy Badger Brands in the kitchen of her Hampden home.

Miss Cowling's logo featured a badger, and her slogan was: "Purveyors of yummy snacks." She also specialized in custom corporate branding, whereby a company could place its logo on her cookies, which would be used for promotional purposes.

"Badger your clients. So the next time you need to reach out to a key contact, hit them in the stomach with a badger," she wrote on her Web site.

She was known for her triple ginger, citrus almond, chocolate cherry pecan and chocolate chip macadamia cookies, which were favorites not only with family and friends, but customers as well.

"She got interested in baking when she was in her 20s and just loved to cook," said her mother, Lark Schulze of Rodgers Forge.

"Even though she had been diagnosed with cancer, she kept planning for the future. She had a wonderful sense of humor and never abandoned it. When she was in the hospital, one of the last things she said was, `This is enough of this. I've got to go home. I've got cookies to bake,'" she said.

Miss Cowling faced her illness with a mixture of courage, humor and willingness to share her experiences with others who also were ill with cancer.

Ginny Schardt, a professor who teaches sports psychology at Towson University and also has cancer, met Miss Cowling at the Wellness Community in Towson, a nonprofit group that provides education and support services to cancer patients.

"She was a nice, gentle and appealing person who brought a great sense of humor and hope," said Dr. Schardt, who was profiled by The Sun last month.

"She refused to be defined by her breast cancer. She was very anxious to help people. She was very proactive and had so much courage. I was lucky to have known her, and she really helped me and others through their own personal battles with cancer," Dr. Schardt said.

Tony W. Buechner, a retired Baltimore & Ohio Railroad surveyor and draftsman who lives in the city's Tuscany-Canterbury section, also met Miss Cowling through the Wellness Community.

"She was in our group and the only way to get into our club is to have cancer. I met her my first week with the group, and she was one great lady. She was a real joy," said Mr. Buechner, who is recovering from prostate cancer and is a volunteer docent at the B&O Railroad Museum.

"She was an extremely generous and kind person who was always very nurturing," said Rebecca H. Berger, a former roommate and co-worker at The Bead.

"I just found her inspiring. We all looked to her as an example and wondered if we would ever be able to comport ourselves with such grace and selflessness. As she fought cancer, she tried to find balance in her life. She never allowed herself to be overcome by depression, anger or self-pity," she said.

"Her life was one of playful grace and gentle wit, filled with friends and the cats she insisted on rescuing and cajoling her friends to adopt," said her brother, Michael Cowling of Baltimore.

"The home she shared with her cherished friend Henry Mitchell was filled with books, music, laughter and the wonderful smell of cookies," he said.

A memorial service will be held in the chapel of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

In addition to her mother and brother, Miss Cowling is survived by her father, Samuel Cowling of Painesville; her paternal grandmother, Adele Cowling of Painesville; her stepfather, Maurice Rottenberg of Rodgers Forge; her stepmother, Susan Cowling of Painesville; a half-sister, Dorigan Cowling of Painesville; and a stepbrother, Gavin Malcolm of Boston.

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