Mitch Bowen was my friend.
My mind has been flooded with memories of him since his home going last Thursday night.
He taught me a lot and he tolerated all my questions and pestering down through the years.
He was a man who “had work to do” and he was busy with many projects and business interests.
Our relationship started with me pursuing him around the dining room of Oak Plaza Restaurant.
His relationship with The Times was not always smooth and this was one of those times. I had been sent to get a story about his election as chairman and with deadline approaching and a front page spot to fill, I couldn’t come back empty handed.
He finally relented and I got my story.
In the almost two decades since, I can honestly say I genuinely loved the guy. We were friends from then on.
Mitch Bowen lived a long, full life.
He owned an Amoco station, was a salesman at Parrish Motors and Waters Ford, a co-founder and co-owner of Dixon-Bowen-Taylor Funeral Home and most recently, the host at Reall Barbecue.
As I already mentioned, when I first met him, he was the owner of our hometown cafe, the Oak Plaza Restaurant.
For probably a thousand Thursdays and with countless plates of fried chicken, biscuits and other soul foods before us, I sat at the long table with he and his wife, Norene.
During his tenure as chairman, if I wanted to know what was going on, I had to go “have an audience” with Mitch.
The master of the corny joke (and I think he had thousands of them), he would hold court at that table after the lunch rush was over. Mitch genuinely loved people and he loved Pierce County and her people.
He loved being chairman. You can look around and see the influence of Mitch Bowen. He oversaw renovation of the two crown jewels of Main Street – the courthouse and the NFC building – the construction of the Pierce County Library, the purchase of the Nichols Street Annex and the placement of the traffic light at Lairsey’s crossing.
Oh, sometimes he’d be aggravated with me because of my reporting.
He would be a little cool to me when I sat down at the dinner table.
He would say, “Why did you write what I said?”
I explained to him then and to other politicians since and even to those serving now: “This is how this works. I’m a reporter. You are a decision maker and a leader. You speak. I write.”
Communication is key for a leader to convey what they want to do and how they want to get there. Sometimes, the process is messy. Sometimes, people don’t like what you do and they criticize you. It’s not personal — or it shouldn’t be. Not sure why people make it that way.
He and I always managed to get by those little hiccups and we were always cordial with one another.
Mitch was easily quotable and he talked like I do. He used words like “onliest” and “boocoodles”.
I loved hearing about the phone calls from constituents. I remember him taking one on dog troubles where the resident said a dog bit him and wanted Mitch to do something about it. Mitch very calmly told the man: “Sir, you might just have to bite him back.” Then, there was the lady who called because torrential rains had her road washed out and messed up. It had rained and rained and rained. Mitch finally explained to her that it was pouring down rain and as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t do anything about it right then.
“Ma’am, you can’t grade mud.”
Then there were budget issues. The first year he was in office a recession hit and the budget was bad. It required a two or three mill tax increase. The county clerk had scheduled her vacation after the session and when it was over she told Mitch and the commission she was going on vacation. In his typical monotone delivery, Mitch said “The rest of us are going to stay here and die.”
Perhaps my favorite Mitch Bowen story is one he related about the time he and the corrections officers were overseeing the courthouse renovation. Mitch insisted on removing the sheetrock and restoring the original woodwork. The inmate work crews were busy sanding the wood and preparing it for restoration. One inmate was particularly deliberate and slow with his work. The officer told him to get busy and hurry up. The inmate looked up and said: “Ain’t no need to hurry boss. I got 10 more years.” Mitch loved that story, too. So much that he often had trouble telling it because he was laughing so hard.
In my mind and memory, I like to linger on that remembrance. It makes me smile.
Thank you for being my friend, Mitch. I love you and I will miss you.
• Jason Deal is a staff writer for The Blackshear Times. Reach him at email@example.com.