Bowley remembered for dedication to community, family
Sometimes there is a single moment in a person's life that sums up the type of man or woman they are. For Ralph Bowley, that moment may have been a mere two weeks ago, when he phoned in to take part in a Board of Selectmen meeting that had the town budget on the agenda.
No one would have faulted the Republican selectman for being truly absent from the meeting. Battling cancer for months, he looked less than himself at a February meeting of the board. However, Bowley felt the budget was too important an item to not take part in the discussion and vote. And so, he made sure to be involved. A week-and-a-half later -- on April 10 -- Bowley succumed to the disease at the age of 66.
Selectman Sherri Steeneck said Bowley's presence at the meeting -- via phone -- reminded her of her friend Denise Dougiello, who was serving on the Board of Selectmen when she lost her battle with cancer in August 2008.
"They were both very dedicated people who took their responsibilities seriously and lived up to them the best they could until the very end," she said. Steeneck was appointed to Board of Selectmen after Dougiello died.
Shannon Bowley remembers a dad who was always involved in town government and his community, especially when it came to his children.
Bowley was a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), former president of the Fairfield Board of Realtors, former chairman of the Fairfield YMCA, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Fairfield, a deacon and an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield and he also served as a director of the Connecticut Board of Realtors and the Fairfield Real Estate School.
Bowley also coached his son Christopher's basketball and little league teams, his daughter Gillian's little league team, and Gillian and Shannon's softball team.
"I lucked out. I won the lottery with my dad," Shannon said. "He was great in every aspect and the older I got, the more I appreciated him."
Bowley, a certified real estate appraiser who held the prestigious SRA designation, sold his company, Bowley-Moore Appraisal Centre Inc., before making the decision in 2007 to seek election to the Board of Selectmen. Bowley served as running mate to Republican John Nelson. Bowley ended up getting more votes than Nelson, and thus earned a spot on the board as the lone Republican. A year later, Bowley ran for state representative in the 132nd General Assembly District, but lost to incumbent Tom Drew. During an interview with the Fairfield Citizen in October 2008, Bowley explained why he believed he would represent the district better than Drew.
"I'm more typical of the normal everyday person that walks down the street," he said. "I've been chairman of the board of managers of the YMCA. I'm just like everybody else. I've got my usual church activity. I've done the local organizations, the civic organizations. I've been a member of Kiwanis for a zillion years. For me, it's not going to work that makes the community. It's how you interact with the people in your community and how comfortable you feel..."
Shannon remembers being at the foot of the stage -- with her dad -- when President Ronald Reagan came to Fairfield a quarter century ago. She remembers being present at her father's Zoning Board of Appeals meetings, watching him make decisions. She was too young to fathom what he was deliberating on, but she knew he was in a position of importance.
She remembers witnessing her dad and others getting the tallies on election nights at Old Town Hall. All of this laid the foundation for Shannon wanting to get involved in some way.
In 2007, she ran for and won a spot on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) -- the same year her dad earned a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
"I was inspired by my father," she said.
The inspiration worked both ways, however. Gillian participated in the Tri-Fitness Fairfield Triathlon in 2006. Shannon got involved in it in 2007. Bowley decided to give it a go in September 2008 and wound up placing third in his age group.
"He loved sports and he was competitive, but he always liked to have fun," Shannon said.
He even incorporated fun into his coaching. And it must have left an impression on players, as Shannon said she has been answering many phone calls from people who played for him.
"He was just a great guy," said Tom Flynn, the chairman of the Board of Finance. "He was a true gentleman. He was a fighter, particularly with his last bout with cancer. He always put the town's best interests above party or above personalities. He'll be sorely missed."
That phone call Bowley made two weeks ago to take part in the Board of Selectmen meeting was one of the only calls he made in recent weeks. Flynn said Bowley would call him privately and ask what was going on with the budget as well as with various other things coming before the finance board.
"So right up until the end he was as involved as he could possibly be," Flynn said.
Brenda Kupchick, who was on the Board of Education for years before being elected to the RTM this past November, recalled walking the streets of Fairfield with Bowley in 2007 and 2008, when he was running for selectman and state representative, respectively.
Asked what she learned from Bowley, Kupchick said, "I think I learned what most learned from him, honesty and integrity. He was a kind and gentle man...Ralph had the qualities I most admire in public servants, straight talk and integrity. He was simply a genuine person who cared about his community."
"He didn't deviate from the man he's always been," Baldwin said. "Ralph was a straight shooter full of common sense and was always looking to do what was best for the town."
He added, "He was a talk softly, carry a big stick kind of guy. When he talked people listened because they knew that he had something of substance to say."
Bowley was a rather reserved man. He wasn't loud, Steeneck said, but when he wanted to make a point, "He was very capable of making it and getting the attention of the people who needed to hear it."
Even two weeks ago, Bowley's voice got stronger when he wanted to emphasize something or disagreed with something, such as the Board of Education's decision to conduct an operational audit separate from a town audit.
Long before Steeneck served on the Board of Selectmen with Bowley, they served together on the ZBA in the mid-to-late 1980s.
"I always respected him," she said. "He was always ethical, always thoughtful about a situation and he tried to be fair and honest. He took [his service] seriously."
Baldwin said the community lost a great man and a gentleman who was mild-mannered and caring.
"He was a champion of common sense and good government. We will miss him, and Fairfield will miss him. Our deepest and sincere condolences go out to his family ... and heartfelt thanks to Ralph for all he has done for us."
Baldwin added, "He's been kind of Mr. Fairfield, a real estate appraiser who knew so many people, the way the town operated."
First Selectman Ken Flatto said of Bowley, "Ralph was such an integral part of the Board of Selectmen and our community and he deeply cared about Fairfield. It was a real pleasure to have worked so closely with him and we will miss his passion, his spirit and his commitment to the Fairfield community.
"We have worked well together, and have shown civility can be a part of town government despite party differences," Flatto added. "It's very difficult even more so after losing former Selectman Denise Dougiello two years ago to have another loss on the Board of Selectmen. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the Bowley family."
A wake will take place Wednesday, April 14, from 3 to 9 p.m. at Spear-Miller Funeral Home, 39 South Benson Road. The funeral will take place Thursday, April 15, at 10 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield, 2475 Easton Turnpike.