I first came into the orbit of William H. Bowen, who died a week or so ago, when I was in my early thirties. I had written something for the old Arkansas Gazette that had caught his eye. Actually, my last name caught his eye. Turns out he had a lifelong habit of trying to get to know anybody named Bowen that he ran across to see if there was some sort of relation.
In our case there was not, but that didn’t keep him from graciously inviting me to join him nonetheless for my first lunch at the Little Rock Club. I don’t remember much about the lunch except that I enjoyed the view from atop what was then the Commercial National Bank building (as I recall) while wondering why on Earth Bill Bowen was wasting his time with the likes of a nobody such as me.
We kept in touch over the years mostly through mutual friends and acquaintances. We would see each other when out to dinner and the like. And he called me out of the blue shortly after Uncle Sam and I split the sheets to make sure I “didn’t do something stupid” as he put it before he could get to me.
But my favorite memory of Mr. Bowen was back when he was running Bill Clinton’s office while the latter was flitting around all over the country running for President. Our family has held our reunions at Eden Isle for as long as I can remember. It was during one of those occasions that I ran into him in the club house at Red Apple Golf Course. After we had made small talk and caught up with each other he asked me what I was doing in Heber. I told him that I was up there for the family reunion.
“Now, you lost your daddy when you were young,” he said. “Did I remember that right?”
He did. The fact that he remembered it at all was amazing to me.
“Is your mother still living?”
“Yes sir,” I said. “She’s in one of those condos over there.”
“Take me to her. I want to meet her.”
“Of course I want to meet your mother. Lead the way.”
At that point in time he was merely the 3rd most important guy in the damn State behind Frank Broyles and Bill Clinton. What was I going to say? I had a tee time?
He put his arm around my shoulder as we walked to the condo where Mother and the rest of the family was staying. Mother was sitting in a rocking chair when we entered.
“Mother, I want you to meet Mr. William Bowen,” I said.
“Don’t get up ma’am,” he said as he extended his hand to her.
“He’s the Chief of Staff for the Governor of Arkansas,” I said by way of introduction for the first and last time in my life.
By this time, Mother had just begun her cruel descent into dementia. Mr. Bowen must have sensed that as he took her hand in both of his.
“My name is Bill,” he said gently.” What’s your name?”
“My name is Donice,” she said.
“I’m glad to meet you Donice, he said as he patted her hand.” I’m glad Paul told me you were here. I want you to know that your son is a very fine man. I’m honored to meet his mother. And that’s all I want to say other than I hope you are enjoying the family reunion.”
“Thank you Sir,” my poor confused mother said.
As he left he said,” You take care of your mom, Paul. Call me if you need me.”
They say that you can tell if a man is a gentleman by the way that he treats the waiter. And I agree with that. But a gentleman is also a man who takes the time to impart a kindness for no other reason than he has the opportunity to do so. After all, is there a mother that breathes who doesn't like to hear a compliment about her kid? Even if in the case of Donice's oldest boy, Bill Bowen had to apply considerable gild on an exceedingly dubious lily in the process.
Like I said, I’m nobody. But on that day years ago a truly great man like William H. Bowen offered to meet Nobody’s mother just because he had the opportunity to impart a kindness.
Thank you Mr. Bowen. You were a gentleman.
Rest in Peace.