__For almost two decades, he’s been involved with every campus wedding, countless secret and public ceremonies, met thousands of tourists, potential students and parents and become a campus legend. Wren Supervisor Bernard Bowman will have his 18 years of dedication to the College of William and Mary recognized next month as the 2009 recipient of the Duke Award. He recounts his 75 years in Williamsburg, the changes he’s seen along the way and his own connection to the College’s most important structure.__
For eighteen years, Bernard Bowman has supervised nearly every event in the Wren Building. But there’s one function he won’t have to oversee: his own award ceremony.
On May 7, Bowman will be honored with the Duke Award, which is given annually to a College of William and Mary staff member who has demonstrated outstanding service and commitment. Students who know Bowman confirm that he is more than deserving of the honor.
“He goes above and beyond his responsibilities as a staff member because he creates personal relationships,” Sarah Rojas ’10 said.
Bowman is the special events supervisor for the Wren Building, a job that requires him to be on campus nearly every night. He especially enjoys assisting with weddings, which allow him to put his organizational skills and reassuring personality to good use.
“I have to be here to make sure everything goes on smooth,” Bowman said. His main role in weddings is “helping the family, making sure they’re nice and cool, you know, make them feel good.”
Bowman also works at the information desk in the Wren Building during the day when no students are on call, which gives him the opportunity to interact with tourists and members of the College’s community. Rojas, a campus tour guide, has often experienced the positive effect Bowman has on visitors.
“I was giving a tour and there were alumni,” she said. “I was asking them about their campus memories and their favorite one was Bernard, and how he was here when they were undergraduates and here for their wedding. That just goes to show why he totally deserves to be recognized.”
Bowman is a favorite among many students and faculty members, but few are familiar with his background. A Williamsburg native, he remembers when Duke of Gloucester Street was lined with the homes of African American families rather than with reconstructed colonial buildings. He was drafted into the army in 1953 for the Korean Conflict and served eighteen months in Germany. There, he entertained his fellow soldiers by giving tap-dancing shows at various posts. After being discharged in 1955, Bowman was a supervisor in the custodial department of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Since 1991, he has spent most of his time in the College’s iconic structure.
Bowman was surprised when he learned he was the 2009 recipient of the Duke Award, which comes with a five-thousand dollar prize. On the day Bowman was to hear the news, Louise Kale, the Executive Director of the Historic Campus, asked him to come to her office.
“I said, ‘Louise, why am I sitting here?’ and she said, ‘Just wait for a knock on the door,’” Bowman said.
President Reveley came in and informed Bowman that he had won the Duke Award.
“I was standing up shaking his hand,” Bowman said, “and I said, ‘Thank you very much sir,’ and he said, ‘You get five-thousand dollars.’ That tripped me up a little bit. I said, ‘Sir, will you repeat that again.’ I was very excited about that.”
Though Bowman was shocked by the honor, the students who interact with him feel that it is long overdue.
“He’s the kindest soul,” Brittany Fallon ’11 said, “so jovial and helpful, and he puts a smile on your face even if you’re just asking for tables and chairs. He’s one of those individuals who helps keep the College together behind the scenes.”
To Fallon, who has worked with Bowman to organize several events, his comforting demeanor and ability to calm frazzled event planners set him apart. To Bowman, that just comes naturally. Though he was thrilled to receive the Duke Award this year, it’s clear that his hard work has nothing to do with honors or recognition.
“I just love – I’m going to repeat this — I just love what I’m doing,” Bowman said. “I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”