Richard Bowman beat the odds, inspired many in his final years

September 18, 2005|By MARLO BARNHART

It's hard to miss the fully decorated Christmas tree in the middle of Carolyn and Richard Bowman's living room.

"We put it up for Christmas 2002 because Richard had been told on Oct. 11 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and had two to three months to live," Carolyn said.

But Richard beat the odds, surviving 35 months to the day of that diagnosis. For three years, that Christmas tree has stayed up as tribute to his courage. He died Sept. 11 at the age of 58.

"I think I'll probably leave it up since Christmas is just a few months away," Carolyn said. When she does finally take it down with its very special collection of 200-plus ornaments, she thinks that is when her husband's death will really hit her.


Carolyn said her husband's courage through his illness was an inspiration to her, their friends and family, and many in the community who came to know Richard through his efforts to make living with cancer a little easier.

After Richard first was diagnosed, he continued to work at Fahrney-Keedy Memorial Home, where he was CEO and president until the disease forced him to retire when he was 56. He worked there for half of his life.

Though no longer able to perform his duties at Fahrney-Keedy, Richard was far from idle in his last months.

"He called the district office of our church and offered to speak at churches about his illness," Carolyn said. Richard spoke at between 12 and 15 churches around the Tri-State area.

He also took the time to comfort other cancer patients individually when he learned of their illnesses.

Carolyn said Richard called one man on the telephone and had him laughing for the first time in months, according to the man's wife. When that man died, Richard and Carolyn attended his service.

At Richard's graveside service Sept. 15, the man's widow returned the kindness and came to offer her support to Carolyn.

Another effort Richard undertook was the creation and sharing of his experiences in a two-page pamphlet titled "My Journey Through the Dark Night of the Soul." It was filled with inspiration and his characteristic humor.

Richard also launched a drive to promote chemo-friendly restaurants once he found that his taste buds had been radically affected by the procedures necessary to slow the progress of the disease.

"Sometimes he'd order something he had always loved, take one bite and find it was no longer a pleasure," Carolyn said.

Several area restaurants were approached to offer chemotherapy patients the opportunity to take small tastes of foods to see what they would be able to eat and they were very cooperative, Carolyn said.

Richard finally got to the point where very few foods still tasted good.

"He could eat clam chowder and Cocoa Puffs," Carolyn said. "He never really liked chowder or even ate Cocoa Puffs before."

"About 10 days before he died, I thanked Richard for giving me such a happy life," Carolyn said. Richard smiled at her and assured her "it wasn't over yet."

Carolyn and Richard had their first date on a Christmas Eve.

"He asked me to a movie and then to a midnight Christmas Eve church service," she said. "I knew right away he'd be mine."

Married Aug. 17, 1968, Carolyn and Richard had no children of their own, but spent a lot of time and energy with the children of family members and friends.

"Richard loved children - he was a kid magnet," said Theresa Messer, a friend of the Bowmans. She met the Bowmans at church about 25 years ago and they became close. The Bowmans were designated guardians of the Messers' children would that have become necessary.

Friends and family are scheduled to gather today at 3 p.m. at Hagerstown Church of the Brethren for a celebration of Richard's life. Many who attend probably will be there because of how Richard touched their lives either before or during his illness.

"We had a very special 35 months and I know that sounds kind of weird," Carolyn said. "It drew us closer to each other and to God, and it made us appreciate every single minute we had together."

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