Resident remembered for contributing much to community when he was alive

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 27, 2003

Perhaps if William (W.A.) Bowers were living today, he would be as active in politics as he was in the 1960s through the 1980s.

However, he died on Feb. 1 at age 84, and those who knew him well remembered some of his hard efforts and fight to make Suffolk a better community in which to live.

He and his wife Annie were married on Sept. 22, 1944. From that union they had one son, William Nathaniel Bowers, now deceased, and one grandson, Terrance Bowers.


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Terrance is very proud of his grandfather and still looks upon him as a great role model. He also said that he didn’t want the public to forget the contributions and sacrifices that W.A. made to the community.

&uot;He told me that when he was a little boy, he would leave his home in Franklin to walk eight miles to attend school,&uot; said Terrance. &uot;He also worked for his father on the farm as a share cropper. They would get up at 5 a.m. and load up a mule cart with fruits and vegetables and go to town to sell them. He told me that during this entire process of working on the farm and going to town to sell the crop, he would always wear a white shirt and tie.&uot;

A native of Franklin and a graduate of Hayden High School, Bowers also attended Norfolk State College and Old Dominion University, and has been a resident of Suffolk since 1967.

John Riddick was a young man when Bowers was in the political forefront; but Bowers and Riddick’s late brother, Moses, fought and worked side by side on civil rights issues.

&uot;He was a very active league member in the Wilroy Civic League, which was a part of the Independent Voters League,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;He also participated in voter registration campaigns to get citizens registered to vote. I remembered him also as a door to door salesman. When he did this, he included political activities to broaden his voter registration campaign.&uot;

In March 1969, Bowers was a member of the Highway Safety Commission. The duty was to seek ways to reduce motor vehicle accidents. Findings were then submitted to Richmond.

Bowers had been pushing for traffic signals in Magnolia for years and finally made a successful pitch before City Council around December 1969. After the signals were installed Bowers said, &uot;The cost will be about $35,000 but it should save millions in property as well as many lives.&uot;

He also fought to expand driver education in the schools and providing it for dropouts, out of school youths and adults. He had said that the main reasons that he fought for the program were drunken driving, speeding, reckless or careless driving, drag racing, following too closely, and driving on the wrong side of the road.

In November 1971, Bowers ran in the Democratic primary for the Sleepy Hole District seat that was held by Lester K. Mansfield. He ran on the platform that he would try to see to the continuation of the sheriff’s department instead of the police department.

&uot;If I’m elected, we can still get the benefits,&uot; said Bowers. &uot;The state pays two-thirds of the cost of the sheriff’s department, but with the police department, it is all paid by the local taxpayers. I don’t believe in the police department’s being any better than a sheriff’s department. I believe the men of those departments make them what they are. If you’ve got good deputies, you’ve got a good sheriff’s department.&uot;

Bowers fought to save money that he said could be better used for more necessary things like sewage, water, getting new industry, employment and a better economy for Nansemond County so all citizens could enjoy a better county and environment.

Others running for the same seat as Bowers were John Wood Nelms Jr. and William Edward Moody, who was running as an independent. Nelms won the election.

In 1977, Bowers – a Suffolk Democratic Committee member at that time – was elected as treasurer to the Fourth Congressional District, a newly formed Fourth District United Caucus. This was headed by the late Moses Riddick.

In 1980 he ran for a Suffolk City Council seat for the Sleepy Hole Borough but had to drop out because he didn’t have enough registered voters. At the time he said that he didn’t realize that some of the signatures were from unregistered voters. He had previously lost two city council elections.

Later in the same year, his luck began to change for the better when he, as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, was among 250 community leaders from across the country was invited to the White House to join President Jimmy Carter in welcoming Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe.

Annie, said she traveled with him everywhere he went and made the trip with him to Washington. &uot;President Carter was later invited to Dr. Martin Luther King’s church in Georgia after his death and also invited us to meet him there. We traveled all over the United States when we could. I’m really going to miss him,&uot; she said.

The older members of the Wilroy Civic League are probably speaking the same sentiment. Bowers was elected for three terms as president of the league. In January 1975, he was recognized by the league and presented a trophy for political and community leadership in Suffolk during 1974.

The funeral for Bowers was held Feb. 5 in Tabernacle Christian Church. The solo that Thomas Harden sang, &uot;May the Work I’ve Done Speak for Me&uot; was one of Bower’s favorites because his long life revealed just that.