CHESTER -- The co-founder of Chester Theatre Company, Vincent G. Dowling, a stage actor who had a decades-long association with Ireland's national theater, Abbey Theatre, and was artistic director of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland, died Friday at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 83.

In 1990, he and H. Newan Marshy founded The Miniature Theatre of Chester, known now as Chester Theatre Company. He not only produced the company's first six seasons (1990-95), he also appeared in many CTC productions as an actor, including Mr. Dooley in "Mr. Dooley's America" (twice); as John Muir in "Joihn nand Teddy";, in "The Gin Game" with Kim Hunter; in the American premiere of Sebastian Barry's "Boss Grady's Boys"; and in Athol Fugard's "Valley Song." He resigned from MTC in 1997 and formed the Vincent Dowling Theatre Company.

"The board of directors, the staff and artists of Chester Theatre Company are saddened at the passing of CTC co-Founder Vincent Dowling. Our condolences go out to (his wife) Olwen and (daughter) Bairbre Dowling, who both contributed so much to the success of the organization and its early productions, and to the rest of Vincent's family," board representatives said in a email nstatement.

"Vincent believed in bringing theater to the people," CTC artistic director Byam Stevens said in the same email. "He was as happy performing in a library, church or at Chester On Track as he was performing at the White House (which he did three times) or the Abbey.

"When I first came to CTC, I asked Vincent about the improbability of founding a professional theater company in a small, rural town. His answer was that every town should have a professional theater.

The staff and artists of CTC strive, every day, to ensure that his vision is a continuing reality."

Dowling, who left school in Dublin at age 16 to become an actor, was a poet, playwright, author, director and raconteur whose work at what was then the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival had a profound impact on a then 20-year-old unknown actor named Tom Hanks when Dowling invited him to the Ohio stage company in 1977. He had directed Hanks one year earlier in California.

"Vincent's the reason I'm an actor, man," Hanks would say years later. "To act with Vincent on the stage is to share the wings with a master."

Dowling served eight years as Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival's artistic director before coming to Chester.

Dowling performed on stages from Moscow to Hong Kong to Washington, D.C., and, finally, in his adopted home of Chester.

"My reality was in who could I pretend to be," Dowling once said. "Acting is to experience everything in God and the devil in yourself on stage."

During his 27 hears at The Abbey Theatre, he was artistic director, director of experimental theater and a leading company actor. He organized the Abbey's first visit to the Moscow Arts Theater and brought the famous Russian company to Dublin.

Dowling also played and directed in London, Paris, Florence, and the Edinburgh Festival.

In his native Ireland, he was a well-known radio and television broadcaster. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1976.

At Great Lakes, Dowling was producing artistic director from 1976-84. There he staged, among others, the "Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby," an 81/2-hour, 40-actor production .

Although he described himself as a committed Democrat, he performed solo on three state occasions at the White House during the Reagan years.

He won an Emmy Award for his PBS television production and direction of "The Playboy of the Western World." His oldest daughter, Bairbre, was a member of the cast.

Dowling's reputation attracted Academy Award winner Kim Hunter, Dan O'Herlihy, David Birney, Ireland's David Kelly and a long list of other actors to the stage in Chester.

Two years ago, he brought Norman Corwin's play about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, "The Rivalry," to audiences in Boston and New York.

Asked once if he was retired, he replied no. "Old actors don't retire, they only get less work," he said.

Besides his wife Olwen, an artist, Dowling is survived by children Bairbre, Louise, Valerie, Rachael and Cian. He leaves seven grandchildren.

Memorial service is private.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to The Actors Fund , 729 7th Avenue, 10 floor, New York N.Y. 10019 or by phone at (212) 221-7300.