Integrity defined by service to others

Thurston Bowman receives Order of the Long Leaf Pine
May. 02, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

C.S. Lewis wrote that integrity is “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

Thurston Bowman seemed to always have a knack for doing the right thing, and often did so behind the scenes. Bowman's place in Thomasville history, his integrity, is defined by the difference he made in the lives of others, and more often than not when no one was watching.

“I think one of the things that is most telling about an individual is having that kind of impact and a lot of people don't even know it,” Councilman Scott Styers said. “There were an awful lot of people who were impacted by him in a very positive way. Often times, the people who were impacted the most didn't necessarily know he was the one responsible. That's a testament to his character because he never wanted the credit. It's a real tribute to what kind of person he is. He just wanted to see the results.”

On Wednesday, community leaders gave Bowman the recognition he never sought during an award ceremony at the Thomasville Woman's Club. Styers presented Bowman the key to the city and the 91-year-old World War II veteran also received the Order of the Longleaf Pine, one of North Carolina's highest honors for individuals who prove extraordinary service to the state.

“I wish I knew how to express my feelings,” said Bowman. “Deep down I'm embarrassed because I feel unworthy. [Receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine] in itself is beyond my ability to appreciate.”

Born in Alexander County in 1923, Bowman came to Thomasville after serving in World War II to work as the treasurer and assistant secretary at the Baptist Children's Home. Bowman over the next 50 years extended his reach throughout the community. He served on City Council from 1987 to 1993, the Thomasville City Schools Board of Education and various boards at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center. He spent time as the president of both the Tom A. Finch YMCA, an organization he helped form in 1972, and the Thomasville Rotary Club, where he has been a member for 52 years.

His impact on the YMCA was so profound that the Board of Directors in 2005 created the “Thurston Bowman Distinguished Service Award,”an annual honor presented to its top volunteer.

“No one has meant or ever will mean more to the YMCA than Thurston Bowman,” Tommy Hodges, YMCA executive director, said. “He means so much to so many and he' s done all of this under the radar. He's not a real out front kind of person, but he was able to show great leadership through his soft-spoken style. It's almost like the softer he spoke, the more powerful the message was. Iconic is a very good word to describe him.”

Bowman never considered himself a leader, only a person who wanted to make things better.

“I have no conception whatsoever of who and when and how much I've touched the lives of people,” said Bowman. “I just trust that I've made a change in the lives of other people. It's always been my desire to leave things better than the way I found them.”

With all the civic work he did through various organizations Bowman's biggest influence was felt in the lives of the children who needed it the most. Clifton Lambreth, a former resident at BCH who went on to become a successful businessman, said Bowman was someone he and other children like him could always count on.

“Thurston Bowman is a true servant leader,” Lambreth said. “He understood the power of love. Everybody he interacted with, he made them better. He's a catalyst for a lot of wonderful things that happened in Thomasville.”

Rotary Club president Kim Cecil said Bowman served as a role model for Chair City youth.

“You'll find that Thurston was a hero to a lot of kids who grew up in Thomasville,” said Cecil. “He is a great example of the way a person should conduct themselves in their personal life and business life. He's just a good person and a lot of people's hero.”

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.