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23 January 2009

Dr. Bill Bowen, in Monument Valley (courtesy photo)

Former Department Head Succumbs;
Colleagues Remember Bill Bowen's
Vision, Commitment, Friendship

Jacksonville State University lost a longtime friend on Monday, January 19, when retired biology department head Dr. William Ray (Bill) Bowen passed away at his Maumelle, Ark. home following a long battle with cancer.

Dr. Bowen came to Jacksonville State University in 1990. He was instrumental in the modernization of the department and the creation of the Little River Canyon Field School. He retired from JSU as Professor Emeritus in 2001 and returned to Arkansas with his wife Jan in 2002.

As news of his passing spread on the JSU campus, Dr. Bowen's friends and former colleagues shared their thoughts on his life and career at JSU. While some credit Dr. Bowen with launching their professional careers, all describe Dr. Bowen as a visionary and motivator whose commitment to his students, staff, department and university inspire an enduring legacy.

Pete Conroy, director of JSU's Environmental Policy and Information Center and the JSU Field Schools, recalls Dr. Bowen was instrumental in convincing him to leave the governor's office to work at JSU in 1995. Conroy worked closely with Dr. Bowen on the planning and construction of the recently completed Little River Canyon Center. He says Dr. Bowen was with the university "every step of the way" in realizing that vision. Recently, Dr. Bowen donated more than half the books for the Center's library, one of his many contributions that will be acknowledged during a special tribute at the Center's official dedication on February 21.

Although Dr. Bowen had difficulty traveling back to Alabama after his illness progressed, Conroy is thankful that his friend was able to make the trip to see the Center in its final stage of construction.

"Although Bill was in an electric wheelchair, we were able to get him in the Gator and drive him around the Center and grounds. He just loved it. It was such a good day," Conroy remembers.

Dr. Mark Meade, associate professor of biology, also credits Dr. Bowen with recruiting him to JSU almost 11 years ago. Dr. Bowen was Dr. Meade's first supervisor in a professional position and Dr. Meade remembers him not only as an excellent department head but also as a father figure in those early days of his career.

Although Dr. Meade had been reluctant to take the position at JSU, Dr. Bowen expressed faith in his ability and convinced him that it would put him on the right track to a fruitful career. Once Dr. Meade put aside his misgivings and took the position, he says he knew he was in the right place because he was "inspired by Dr. Bowen's passion and drive to make his department the best it could possibly be.

"Under Dr. Bowen's leadership, which went well beyond his days as a JSU employee, the biology department transitioned from a minimal facility department to one with state-of-the-art facilities that currently rivals those at any institution in the state," Dr. Meade remembers.

"As part of this transition, Dr. Bowen was directly and/or indirectly involved in many grants written and submitted by the department that resulted in nearly $1 million to equip these labs. These grants succeeded because Dr. Bowen had the vision and the belief that his faculty was capable of becoming leaders in their field. In particular, he had that faith in me and I believe this is why I continue to have, a successful career at JSU," Dr. Meade adds. "He will be surely missed."

Dr. George Cline, a professor in the biology department, remembers Dr. Bowen as a leader who came to JSU and provided an immediate sense of direction for the department.

Dr. Bowen's decision to link the undergraduate curriculum to faculty research was "cutting edge," Dr. Cline says. He credits Dr. Bowen with organizing the curriculum and motivating students and faculty to get involved. As a result of Dr. Bowen's commitment to excellence, the department is recognized regionally for its leadership in teaching and student research, according to Dr. Cline.

When he wasn't teaching, Dr. Bowen built a reputation as an excellent photographer. Some of his favorite subjects to photograph were those he studied as a scientist.

"You can see his love for biology and nature, at all levels, through his photographs," Dr. Cline describes. "His donations of photos have sparked the imagination of many young students that pass through Martin Hall. He had an eye for the picture."

Dr. Benjie Blair, assistant professor of microbiology, recalls that Dr. Bowen had a gift for recognizing the potential in people and for nurturing them. When some of the graduate students nicknamed him "Papa Smurf" due to his physical stature, white beard, kindness and sense of humor, Dr. Bowen loved it, Dr. Blair remembers.

"There is no way to know how many lives he touched through his teaching, but I am proud to have been one of those people. I am a better person for knowing him," Dr. Blair adds.

Dr. Bowen is survived by his beloved wife of 48 years, Janet; two sons, Jeffrey Bowen and his wife Lori, of North Little Rock, and Scott Bowen and his wife, Kelly, of Little Rock; grandsons, Hunter Bowen and Austin Bowen; granddaughter, Emma Bowen; and two brothers, Robert Bowen and John Bowen, of Springfield, Missouri. A sister, Barbara, preceded him in death.

Dr. Bowen was born October 15, 1936, in Iowa City, Iowa to the late Esther and William Bowen. He graduated from Grinnell High School in 1956, then earned a BS in biology from Grinnell College (Iowa) in 1960, a MS and a PhD in botany from the University of Iowa in 1964. Prior to his tenure at JSU, he taught botany/biology at Western Illinois University, Ripon College (Wisconsin) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).

In addition to his passion for photography, Dr. Bowen was an avid tennis player. After relocating to Maumelle, he participated in the Pulaski County Master Gardener program and he and Jan developed a backyard wildlife garden. Together they enjoyed travel to the western states, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Tibet, and Central and South America.

Visitation was held on Thursday, January 22 at Griffin-Leggett Healey and Roth in Little Rock. Dr. Bowen's ashes will be scattered at the Little River Canyon Center in the Little River Canyon National Preserve later this spring.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the JSU Foundation, Dr. William R. Bowen Student Research Fund, c/o Biology Department, Jacksonville State University, 700 Pelham Rd. N., Jacksonville, Alabama 36265.

(Portions of this article were taken from Dr. Bowen's obituary, which was distributed by Griffin-Leggett Healy and Roth in Little Rock, Ark.)

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