JARS v63n2 - In Memoriam: Thomas E. Bowhan

In Memoriam: Thomas E. Bowhan
Gordon Wylie

Tom to his many friends, Uncle Fudge to nieces and nephews for providing treats of the same name, and Papa to grandchildren, the rhododendron world lost a long-time stalwart and ARS Life Member in Tom's passing on September 15, 2008. Emma, his wife of more than fifty years, two sons, a daughter, six grandchildren, a sister and a host of good memories survive.

Tom was born on January 31, 1934, in Bowring, Oklahoma, and counted membership in the Osage Indian Nation as part of his cultural heritage. After the family's move to Oregon, Tom attended high school in Junction City, Oregon, where he and Emma met. Following graduation and their marriage, he proudly served his country in the U. S. Air Force during the Korean War, where he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant with the 6983rd Radio Squadron Mobile. The sensitive nature of this work required passing extensive background checks. Lt. General Thomas Baptiste, a nephew, spoke at Tom's memorial service about both his personal affection and Tom's outstanding military achievements.

Following honorable discharge from the service, Tom was an officer with the Eugene Police Department and later Produce Manager at one of Eugene's major supermarkets, where he also led a regional training center for the market. Ultimately, he was able to "retire" to an often seven-day-a week job as he and Emma operated T. E. Bowhan Nursery. Visits to the nursery offered more than just a choice of well-grown plants. Strolling the Bowhans' superbly designed home garden and conversation over coffee was always included, with lessons learned and later applied in one's own garden.

Many were fortunate to meet Tom during the early stages of their affliction with rhododendrons. In him they soon discovered a wonderful source of information about the mysteries of species and their classification, hybrid parentage, hardiness, garden design, plant care, and all the other details we embrace in pursuit of our passion. His well informed enthusiasm for rhododendrons and desire to learn were shared in a friendly and quiet manner that marks a good teacher and communicator. Several new members came to the ARS after first getting to know Tom and hear about rhododendrons during the years he worked at the market.

Tom chose the perfect name for one of his rhododendron hybrids, R. 'Pawhuska', recognizing both his Native American heritage and the plant's flowers. Pawhuska was the last hereditary Chief of the Osage in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the word translates as white hair, or perhaps White Mountain. As those who cultivate it know, the name beautifully fits the glossy leaved plant producing large white flowers with a delicate ray of yellow on the upper lobe - a valuable addition to our gardens for its softening counterpoint to the frequently riotous colors of many hybrids.

In the early 1980s Emma agreed to be registrar for the 1985 ARS Western Regional Conference in Seaside, Oregon. Then, when computers were still more than a bit mysterious to most of us, Tom developed a computer program to record names and other important details for each registrant. This proved a valuable aid for the conference committee tracking, with the aid of Tom's periodic computer generated reports, what became at the time the largest turnout ever experienced for any Society event. The Bowhans reprised that role for Eugene's 1987 Convention, then said never again. But we "twisted their arms" at least two more times, the last being the 2001 Convention.

Along the way Tom somehow found time to serve as president of the Eugene Chapter, and Emma held the post a few years later. In 1987, in a fitting reminder of how often Tom and Emma acted as an effective team, their long years of numerous contributions were recognized with Bronze Medals presented to each. But that didn't stop them from continuing active participation and help. More recently health slowed Tom's involvement from former levels, but his friendly demeanor assured he remained well known even among new members.

All of us will miss him.