MILESTONE: Dennis Harold Bowie
Born in Conway, Ark., a 9-year old Bowie watched the plane crash in which his father died. His sister Shirley was 2, and Bowie immediately became the man of the house. At age 10, he worked in restaurants and fields, and at 14 he worked on a soft drink truck, driving the truck and lifting full cases of bottled drinks. He finished high school in three years, finished college in three and was teaching school by age 19.
He met his Pat when they were 15. While he was in high school, he excelled in athletics — particularly baseball. He played in a semi-professional baseball league and even got a tryout with the New York Yankees. After receiving his doctorate and teaching with Arkansas schools and Harding College, he came to Harding Academy in 1961.
The academy, formerly Memphis Christian School, was a fledgling school founded in 1952. In 1955, the board asked Harding College in Searcy, Ark., to take over operation of the school. Dr. George Benson, college president and Bowie’s mentor, renamed the school Harding Academy of Memphis and, in 1961, sent Bowie to serve as superintendent.
So began Bowie’s “Magnificent Obsession” with this Christian school that would span almost four decades. Dr. Bowie stood at the helm of Harding Academy, first as superintendent and then as president and CEO, for 37 years that saw vast and sweeping changes in the country and culture. He prayerfully and skillfully navigated the changes that took the school from an enrollment of 300 to more than 2,900 in the 1970s, making it the largest private school in the nation. He has been the single most influential person in the story of Harding Academy.
Bowie was a visionary, a pioneer and an innovator whose wheels were always turning. He gained energy from dreaming, and he was always planning, creating, rethinking and trying to improve. He created satellite elementary schools in church buildings — a model that was implemented by other schools across the country. Under Bowie, Harding became the first school in the Memphis area to build a week of fall break into its calendar.
As a leader in the Memphis Association of Independent Schools, he was a singular force in establishing best practices and fraternal collegiality among his peer administrators. With his friends Dr. Bill Ruhl of Goodpasture School in Nashville, Tenn., and Jesse Long of Greater Atlanta Christian School, Bowie founded an organization of Christian schools known today as National Christian Schools Association.
Bowie mentored a number of administrators and served as a consultant in Christian schools nationwide. He retired from Harding in 1998.
He gave us all the best of himself with nothing held back. He was honest, sacrificial, inspiring, humble, generous, faithful, selfless, intentional and dependable. His extravagant love was accompanied by extraordinary, practical wisdom and personal integrity. He believed deeply and lived unapologetically what he believed.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Dr. Harold and “Miss Pat” Bowie Scholarship Fund at www.hardinglions.org/donate.