Reader’s Digest used to have a feature called "My Most Unforgettable Character." I’ve met a lot of people during my 70 trips around the sun, but I think that if I had to pick one, Bill Bowdoin might just take the cake.
He wore a lot of hats in life - literally and figuratively. We’ll start with the latter. He was great athlete at Marist High School; good enough to become a baseball letterman at the University of Georgia, hallowed be thy name.
He was a devoted husband and father and an ultra-successful businessman, a banker. He was also a veteran and a patriot and was always, always, always proud to stand up for his country, his family and his friends. You could search the world over and not find a more loyal person than Bill Bowdoin.
He was also an SEC football official for 17 years and after he retired from officiating, for several years he became the “Most Hated Man in Sanford Stadium” seven times a year, for Bill was the guy who walked out on the field to signal television time outs, and the game could not go on until Bill gave the signal and departed from the playing area.
I didn’t get to know Bill Bowdoin in any of those capacities, however. I first met him when he signed up for his first Huck’s Tour - a European Odyssey in which we travelled from London to Paris to Normandy, and then across France and Germany and Austria in an attempt to understand the efforts of our fathers as they saved the world from Nazism and fascism in World War II.
And I mean I met Bill when he signed up - not when the trip commenced. He called or emailed me almost daily in the months leading up to our departure, wanting a list of those who were going along, wanting to meet and have lunch to discuss the trip, wanting to meet and have lunch with others who were going and wanting to meet and arrange carpools to the airport. He wore me out before we left Atlanta. But I would learn that, well, that was just Bill.
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Once the trip was underway, he declared himself the “social chairman” of Huck’s Tours and he took his job seriously. On that one two-week trip he created traditions that we still observe, 100 trips later. For instance, he created the "Sir Carlos Leroy of Crepes Monkey Business Friendship Award," which was first instituted as a daily giveaway to the person who had least distinguished themselves throughout that day, but later evolved to a recognition of the person who was the most helpful or most pleasant member of the group on a particular journey. Bill created unique gifts for each recipient - even on trips where he wasn’t along.
Bill enjoyed being the center of attention and the life of the party. If we ever walked into a gift shop that sold quirky headgear - be it a plastic Green Bay Packers cheese wedge or a buffalo head in Yellowstone National Park, you could bet the ranch that Bill would wear said item onto the bus at the next pickup point.
There are memories of Bill burned into my memory - like the time he walked out of the Hofbrauhaus in Munich holding a giant stein of beer in each hand, only to be accosted by the two biggest bouncers I have ever seen. Or the time he did the worm across the deck of a dinner cruise vessel off Key West. Or the time he danced all night, on his knees, with a fellow traveler who was just under five feet tall in Austin, Texas. Or the time he showed up at a Hawaiian luau wearing a grass skirt and coconut bra, or the time... or the time... or the time...
There are more times and more stories than I could ever relate about this larger-than-life figure. I missed Bill during the pandemic, when the world was shut down and group travel was such a challenge, but was thrilled that he and his friend, Susan, were able to accompany us to the Georgia-Tennessee game in November and again on our Southern Christmas tour last month. He was the same old Bill, and it was great being with him again.
I spent last weekend in Indianapolis, along with thousands of others of the Bulldog Nation and got home Tuesday evening, voiceless tired to the bone.
Just as I was turning in, I got a text informing me that my friend, Bill, had passed away. I couldn’t really wrap my mind around what I had been told, but soon my phone was lighting up with the tragic news.
William R. Bowden, Jr, who was born on Nov. 2, 1944, had died on January 11- shortly after his beloved Georgia Bulldogs had won the national championship of college football. He is gone much too soon and there will never be another like him, for God surely broke the mold after Bill Bowdoin was fearfully and wonderfully made.
“There are wooden ships, there are sailing ships. There are ships that sail on the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be"
Rest easy my friend, until we meet again.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Bill Bowdoin was a football official, family-centered man and friend