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William George Bowdon Jr.
Born (1921-10-18)October 18, 1921
Alexandria, Louisiana
Died November 17, 2005(2005-11-17) (aged 84)
Alexandria, Louisiana
Nationality American
Alma mater

Bolton High School
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Louisiana State University
Occupation Real estate broker
Height 6 ft 4 in
Predecessor Carl B. Close
Successor Ed Karst
Political party Democratic Party
Religion United Methodist Church
Spouse(s) Ina Smith "Smitty" Bowdon (married 1947–2005, his death)
Children

W. George "Bill" Bowdon, III
Two grandsons
W. George Bowdon, IV

Robert Scott Bowdon
Notes
Described by a friend as a "natural politician", Bowdon's career ended in scandal and a prison sentence. He rehabilitated his life in the real estate field.

William George Bowdon Jr. (October 18, 1921 – November 17, 2005) was from 1953 to 1969 the Democratic mayor of his native Alexandria, the largest city in Central Louisiana. At thirty-one, he was (and remains) the youngest mayor in his city's history and the first to serve a four-year, instead of the previous two-year term.

Prior to his mayoralty, Bowdon had filled a single term in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1948 to 1952. He succeeded Carl B. Close and C. H. "Sammy" Downs and served alongside Lawrence T. Fuglaar and T. C. Brister, a hardware store owner in Pineville, Louisiana.[1] Bowdon was the youngest person to hold the representative's position in Rapides Parish. One of his immediate House successors, Cecil R. Blair, later served for fourteen years in the Louisiana State Senate from Rapides Parish.[1]

Background

In 1939, Bowdon graduated from Bolton High School in Alexandria; among his classmates were Joe D. Smith Jr., later publisher of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk and the industrialist and philanthropist Roy O. Martin Jr. Bowdon thereafter attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, then known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute. He graduated, however, with a degree in government from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. After graduation, the 6'4", 210-pound Bowdon immediately joined the United States Marine Corps, with training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and served in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II, with duties in Saipan and Tinian. He was discharged with the rank of captain.[2]

Sixteen years as mayor

Bowdon was mayor under the since disbanded mayor-commissioner government, in which the executive mayor administered the fire, police, and sanitation departments and shared city council voting power with two full-time, elected commissioners of (1) finance and utilities and (2) streets and parks. Under his administration, the current City Hall office building was constructed, the municipal water system was expanded, and new industries, including International Paper, Procter and Gamble, and Dresser Industries, came into central Louisiana. Under Bowdon, Ray R. Allen was elevated in 1963 to the position of secretary-treasurer. In 1977, Allen was named the first finance director under the new mayor-council government.[3]

As mayor, Bowdon also worked to construct the city courtroom, jail, fire stations, a $6.5 million electric power plant, highway underpasses, and water storage facilities.[2]

Running for lieutenant governor, 1959–1960

In 1957, Bowdon was elected by his peers as vice president of the Louisiana Municipal Association. The next year, he was elected LMA president, the youngest person to have held the top position in the lobbying organization. In 1959, New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison Sr., invited Bowdon to run for lieutenant governor on an intraparty ticket in which Morrison made the second of his three unsuccessful bids for the Louisiana governorship. In joining Morrison, Bowdon signaled that he was part of the anti-Long coalition at least for the time being. "Both Chep and I have similar records for building and changing our hometowns," Bowdon said in an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune.[2]

Bowdon lost out in his race too; victory went to State Representative (and former House Speaker) Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock of Franklin in St. Mary Parish. Aycock ran in the party runoff on the unofficial "ticket" with former Governor James Houston "Jimmie" Davis. Aycock, a conservative who stressed states rights, was lieutenant governor for three terms from 1960 to 1972.

Defeat and downturn, 1969–1972

Bowdon's long political career, however, ended in the spring of 1969, when he lost a bid for a fifth term. He finished fourth in the Democratic primary with 1,784 votes (15.7 percent).[4] Thereafter, Bowdon was employed in real estate, which had been his source of income prior to being mayor full-time.

A series of scandals involving high municipal officials, including the finance and utilities commissioner, Democrat Leroy Wilson (1905–1978), were uncovered in Bowdon's last term as mayor, and two candidates claiming to be "reformers" went into a Democratic runoff primary. Ed Karst, a lawyer originally from New Orleans, then defeated John K. Snyder, a Pineville native, for the right to succeed Bowdon. Meanwhile, Carroll E. Lanier, an electrical contractor and future mayor, defeated Wilson for the utilities commissioner's post.

Bowdon was indicted in 1969 on theft charges for allegedly using city employees to work on personal property. In 1971, he pleaded guilty to stealing $6,641 and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He served less than a year at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in West Feliciana Parish.

W. L. "Jack" Howard, the long-term mayor of Monroe, Louisiana was similarly convicted in 1975 of using municipal employees for personal benefit, but he received a suspended sentence.[5]

Butch Crenshaw, a former Independent member of the Alexandria City Council, recalled that Bowdon "had a little misfortune at the end of his political career, but he came back. He lived a very good life."

Former Alexandria City Judge George M. Foote, a friend of Bowdon's for seventy years, told The Alexandria Town Talk that Bowdon was "convivial. He was a natural-born politician." An avid outdoorsman, Bowdon will be remembered by his friends' children, whom he taught to hunt and fish ... He was respected for that," Foote said. Crenshaw said that he was twelve years old when he first met Bowdon, whose marksmanship in shooting quail was legendary. "That's how I met him. He was one of the best shots I've ever seen."

Bowdon's death and legacy

Bowdon suffered a heart attack in October 2005, and had been a patient at Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital until he returned home on November 16, and died the next day.

Then Alexandria Mayor Ned Randolph ordered that all city flags be flown at half-staff in Bowdon's honor until after the funeral services. Bowdon's "commitment and dedicated service . . . has helped to lay a solid foundation for the city of Alexandria and its citizens," Randolph said in a media release.

Bowdon's father, William George Bowdon Sr., was the mayor of Alexandria from 1941 to 1945. A Bowdon uncle and several other relatives were Methodist pastors. Bowdon, who was active in the First United Methodist Church of Alexandria, was survived by his wife, Ina Smith "Smitty" Bowdon (October 9, 1922–February 26, 2008),[6] whom he met in Alexandria on the day that he returned from the Marines; a son, W. George "Bill" Bowdon, III,[2] of Baton Rouge, a retired USMC officer, and two grandsons, William George Bowdon, IV, of Bossier City and Robert Scott Bowdon of Houston, Texas. He was preceded in death by a brother, Thomas J. "Jim" Bowdon (1926–1996) and a sister, Margaret B. Verdin (1923–2008) of Hartsdale, New York, and later Gaithersburg in Montgomery County, Maryland.[2]

Like many other Alexandria-area leaders, the Bowdons are interred at Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville.

Grave of former Alexandria Mayor W. George Bowdon Jr., in Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville

References

Preceded by
At-large members:

Carl B. Close
C. H. "Sammy" Downs
John R. Hunter Jr.

Louisiana State Representative from Rapides Parish

William George Bowdon Jr.
1948-1952

Succeeded by
At-large members:

James R. Eubank
Cecil R. Blair
H. N. Goff

Preceded by
Carl B. Close
Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana

William George Bowdon Jr.
1953-1969

Succeeded by
Ed Karst
Preceded by
Leon Gary
President of the Louisiana Municipal Association

William George Bowdon Jr.
1958–1959

Succeeded by
Sidney L. Gray

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