Ambassador of Happiness wasn’t just a nickname, or some informal moniker used around his inner circle of close friends and colleagues, but rather it was the official and legal title for Joel Matthew Fischer, a co-owner of Oregon-based East Fork Cultivars. For IRS purposes, he was literally the company’s Ambassador of Happiness.
Along with his fellow co-owners – Nathan Howard, Aaron Howard and Mason Walker – Fischer was part of a quartet known as the East Dorks on East Fork Ranch in Takilma, about 40 miles southeast of Medford, where their cannabis and hemp business launched in 2015. They own about 40,000 square feet of canopy along with 12 acres of craft hemp.
Also a licensed realtor, real estate investor and personal finance coach, Fischer died unexpectedly Jan. 8, at age 37, leaving his East Fork family devastated. Fischer is survived by his wife, Tricia Chin, mother, Terry Fischer, and brothers Mike Fischer and Dave Fischer.
“His death has broken me,” Nathan Howard said in a post on social media. “When I’m able to put myself back together, I hope to do so with his spirit, love and approach to life as guideposts.”
Howard described Fischer as a “magical” person who went through life with “surreal zest” and passion that is legendary among his friends and family.
Fischer, who grew up in Portland, built and developed an ability to impact those around him through his belief that people are capable of so much more than they think.
“There’s room for everyone to be further empowered in their lives, and they really just need a mentor,” Howard said of Fischer’s ideology. “So, a cornerstone to Joel’s approach to everything was that if people believed they can do it, they can. And if people have been traumatized or beaten down or bullied or told by others that they can’t do it, it’s the worst thing if they internalize that, because that makes it all the more likely that they won’t change their lives or do what they want to do.”
In addition to empowering others to follow their passions, Fischer was big on giving away small gifts, like organic lavender that he’d buy in bulk and put in small, blue vials to keep in his pocket and hand out to people he’d meet for the first time.
Not to mention, Fischer would often help counsel others for free, whether it came to buying a house or just financial planning in general. His generosity earned him the nickname, “Patron Saint of East Fork Cultivars.”
“It was small and big stuff,” Howard said. “But the Ambassador of Happiness title was really about helping other people find more happiness in their lives.”
According to his obituary, Fischer made a point of making those around him feel loved. He was always up for an adventure and spent much of the last few years traveling the world. His presence in Oregon’s cannabis community, and in his own community, was extensive.
“The impact he’s had on people across Oregon and the world is spectacular,” Howard said. “And [it’s] only becoming more clear in his death. His accomplishments, personal and professional, are similarly striking.”
Nathan and Aaron Howard also experienced the grief of losing a loved one when their other brother, Wesley Howard, died in 2017 from complications associated with a severe case of neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue such as the brain, spinal column and nerves.
Wesley’s condition is what sparked the Howards to start growing medical cannabis at their southern Oregon home, a former llama breeding ranch, in an effort to help their brother manage his pain and other ailments.
When his brother Wesley died, Nathan Howard said Fischer was there for him.
“Joel and I were together at a business meeting, working to build what’s become East Fork, when I got the call that my older brother Wesley had suddenly passed away,” Howard said. “Joel drove me to Wesley’s apartment, hugged me, stayed with me while saying goodbye to his body, and helped my family make all the post-death arrangements that we’re now making for Joel. He shared essential wisdom he had gained after losing his father far too soon.”
But Fischer didn’t leave behind just his tight-knit community of about 25 co-workers at East Fork Cultivars. On a memorial website created for Fischer, those who knew him from all walks of life shared their condolences and memories.
Before joining East Fork, Fischer, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Oregon State University, spent 12 years working in Oregon politics. Oregon state Sen. Sara Gelser and former Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt paid tribute to Fischer with their testimonials.
“My heart is broken,” Sen. Gelser said. “I began working with Joel early, early, early in my legislative career. He was always so bright and funny and cheerful and flexible and charismatic. To all who were lucky to have him be part of your regular life, please know how deeply admired he is, how loved he is and that you are wrapped in love in this time of sorrow.”
Hunt wrote on Fischer’s memorial page that they both grew up as sons of American Baptist preachers, but they really got to know each other when Fischer started his political journey on former state Rep. Chris Edwards’ legislative campaign in 2006 in Eugene.
“Although Joel and Chris were both proud Beavers, it was fun to watch him hide his ‘colors’ and find success in the heart of Duck country,” Hunt said about Fischer being an Oregon State graduate working in the same city as the University of Oregon. “His successful journey then continued in and outside the [Oregon] Capitol. He demonstrated his ultimate commitment to equity and justice at [Oregon Business Industry] in 2018.”
Hunt continued and said, “Joel and I both lost our fathers about 15 years ago. We shared many conversations since then about how much we missed our dads and struggled with their premature deaths. May God bring comfort to Joel’s wife, mom Terry Sue, family and friends during these tragic days.”
Early on in Fischer’s political career, he was the policy adviser for current Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, whom he helped redesign the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – which is designated to help low-income families with children achieve economic self-sufficiency – and guide it through the political process, according to Fischer’s LinkedIn page.
When it came to cannabis legislation, Howard said Fischer was involved in the work that led to the passing of Ballot Measure 91, which legalized adult-use cannabis in the state in 2014.
Oregon state Sen. Michael Dembrow, whose district Fischer resided in for a long time, will be introducing a bill in the upcoming legislative session to honor Fischer’s memory, legacy and all of his political contributions on the floor of the upper chamber, Sen. Dembrow confirmed. “Joel was a great guy, much loved and respected by those he worked with at the [Oregon] Capitol,” Sen. Dembrow said.
While Fischer’s political impact extended to all corners of the state, back on the ranch at East Fork is where he found his favorite original cultivar – sour pineapple. Mentally, Fischer said in his company bio that it picked him up when he was down and settled him down when he was up. Physically, he said it is excellent for post-workout recovery and general relief. Those who also enjoy East Fork’s sour pineapple can do so with a connection to Fischer.
Since last Friday, Howard said he’s spent a lot of time with Fischer’s family and friends at Fischer’s home trying to wrap their minds around the fact that he’s gone.
“We spoke most days for the past five years,” Howard said. “Many of my favorite memories from recent life are with Joel. We didn’t say goodbye to each other when we were done hanging out or hopping off the phone – we said, ‘I love you.’”