Darlene Lowe co-founded the Edward Lowe Foundation in 1985 along with her husband, for whom the organization is named. Passionate advocates for entrepreneurship and its role in the U.S. economy, the Lowes launched the foundation because they believed that entrepreneurs weren’t getting the kind of support and resources they needed.
Darlene became chairman and CEO of the foundation in 1995 after Ed’s death. In this role, which she held through 2020, she assisted the board of trustees in governing the foundation and assumes primary responsibility for ensuring the continuity of the organization’s original intent and founding principles.
An entrepreneur herself, Darlene established her own interior design business, Haymarket Interiors, in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, she became vice president of design and facilities planning at Edward Lowe Industries, where she managed the design and renovation of more than 80 diverse projects, including the foundation’s 2,000-acre campus, Big Rock Valley (BRV).
At BRV, Darlene has created a “country classic” signature style that blends antiques and rustic furnishings with eclectic, contemporary elements. She recycles materials in surprising ways, such as placing buttons on furniture or using pickle barrel slats and railroad ties to build decks. The end result: a yesteryear rural charm with a touch of formality.
Darlene Lowe, Co-founder of the Edward Lowe Foundation
To ensure that BRV visitors have a quality experience, Darlene has also established hospitality systems and standards. These range from how facilities should be maintained to how guests should be greeted and meals should be served.
In 2006 the foundation published “BRV Style!,” a commemorative booklet that looks at Darlene’s interior design philosophy for BRV, followed by “Leading by Design” in 2012, which looks at her life and leadership style.
Darlene’s creative gifts were evident at an early age. She was constantly drawing and won best-picture contests in grade school. In high school she served on decorating committees for proms, painted backdrops for stage productions and was art editor of the yearbook. During her senior year, she won a scholarship from Scholastic Magazine that enabled her to attend Albion College where she studied art.
Right: Two charcoal drawings that Darlene drew as a class exercise at Albion College.
After Ed’s death in 1995, Darlene took over as chairman of the Edward Lowe Foundation, which the couple had launched in 1985. (ELI had been sold in 1990.) Although Darlene’s boardroom style was a considerable contrast to Ed’s, observers praise her leadership skills.
“I was amazed at how effortlessly she ran the foundation board meetings,” said Haring, who served on the foundation’s board of trustees from 1997 to 1999. “She encouraged people to come up with ideas, but knew when to throw in her own. If something was running too long, she didn’t hesitate to speak up, but she also knew when to let an issue ride if the board was really picking up on something. She’s in charge without you knowing that she’s in charge.”
Others praise Darlene for being flexible while simultaneously preserving Ed’s vision for the foundation and preventing mission drift.
Swindell also praised her ability to recruit high-caliber employees. “She has excellent instincts,” he said. “She can spot a phony — and she can spot people with real talent and integrity.”
Both family and foundation staff remark on Darlene’s ability to motivate others and inspire loyalty.
The important thing in life is to figure out what you do best and then go with it. Be true to yourself and don’t fake anything.
— Darlene Lowe