College recognizes beloved Bernard with 2009 Duke Award

  • A surprise playBernard Bowman is well known for his affable nature, what many don't know about him is that he loves "to blow" his harmonica - he even does a mean rendition of the College's Alma Mater.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    A surprise play

For nearly two decades Raymond Bernard Bowman, Sr. has cared for the people and spaces associated with William & Mary’s Wren Building. He is, in fact, an institution at the College. For his dedication to the College, the Wren Building and its staff and guests, Bowman is being recognized with the 2009 Charles and Virginia Duke Award.

"Bernard takes wonderful care of the Wren itself and of everyone who comes within its precincts," said William & Mary president Taylor Reveley. "He has long ensured that the Wren is ready for classes, tours, weddings and countless other events.  And he is a friend to all, especially those who need aid and comfort - tourists, brides, William & Mary presidents, everyone.  He is one of the most welcoming and stalwart forces at the College."

Established in 1997, the Charles and Virginia Duke Award is given annually to an outstanding member of the College staff who exhibits exemplary service and dedication to William & Mary. The award was endowed by Charles Bryan Duke and Ann Evans Duke ('57) in memory of Mr. Duke's parents -- Charles Joseph Duke Jr. ('23), former bursar and assistant to two William & Mary presidents, and Virginia Welton Duke, former College hostess -- for their years of distinguished and loving service to the College. The award carries a $5,000 prize and the recipient is acknowledged during Commencement ceremonies each May.

Bowman was shocked, and honored, by the award and its prize. He noted President Reveley told him in person about winning the award and the gift that goes with it.

“I was standing upright shaking his hand when he told me that, and I said ‘Sir, repeat that again.’ I got so excited I was still shaking his hand,” said Bowman. “It was just a shocking thing.”

Bowman’s official title is security guard, but in reality he wears many hats – mentor of student volunteers, information guide, College/Wren historian and wedding facilitator. The last hat is one of his favorites.

“I just enjoy working with the students and I love working all of the events and I love working the weddings in the Chapel. That’s my main thing, the weddings in the Chapel,” said Bowman, who works a part-time, evening and weekend schedule at the college.

To William & Mary brides, he’s a legend. The extra care and attention Bowman uses in executing each and every wedding, has endeared him to hundreds of brides who have walked the aisle of the Wren Chapel over the last 18 years.

“It is not unusual for him to be asked to join the bride and the groom after the wedding for a wedding picture,” said Louise Kale, director of the Wren Building and William & Mary’s Historic Campus.

Bowman also holds a special place in the hearts of the students, faculty and staff.

“To watch Bernard work is to take a lesson in interpersonal skills,” said Michael Blaakman ’09 Wren tour guide, in supporting Bowman’s nomination for the award. “Whether speaking to a frazzled tourist, a frightened bride, a frustrated student, or a faculty member or administrator, Bernard’s jovial manner and bright smile immediately set people at ease.

“When I think of Bernard, I think of him saying to me ‘I’ve got it,’ added Kale.  “When I leave the Wren Building I usually leave in a flurry of sort of neurotic reminders to Bernard. And Bernard always says, ‘I’ve got it’ and that reminds me that it’s OK for me to leave because he is here.”

Prior to coming to work at William & Mary in 1991, Bowman served as custodial supervisor for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He retired from Colonial Williamsburg that year after 25 years of service. He’s spent most of his life in the area and is a graduate of Bruton Heights High School. Still, William & Mary holds an extra special place. For Bowman it’s all about community and people.

“Bernard is absolutely devoted to the College, and to the Wren Building, and to the people who use the Wren Building,” said Kale.

His other devotion is his family. He and his wife of 55 years, Rosetta, have nine children – seven daughters and two sons - nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Currently 75 years young, Bowman shows no signs of slowing down.

“This is so good and everything, why retire and sit down at home and go crazy,” Bowman noted. “I’m doing good, I feel good, so that’s why I say I will stick with it as long as I can.”

“This weekend,” Kale said. “I’m leaving here with a luncheon in the Great Hall, a dinner in the Great Hall, an Honor Society induction and after that, two weddings.”

It’s OK, Bernard’s got it.