Fred Thurston Bowman died peacefully at his residence in Thomasville on April 20, 2018 with his family near his side. He was 95.
He was born on January 29, 1923, on a farm in Alexander County, near Taylorsville, to Smith L. Bowman and Pansy Pennell Bowman. As he grew up on the farm as the oldest of nine children, his character was grounded in hard work and the joy of watching both people and crops grow.
The family apple orchard not only provided a critical source of income but also gave Thurston an enduring love of horticulture. Until the last year of his life, he loved buying a bushel of apples at Christmas time, dividing them, and presenting friends and family members with their own peck of apples as a holiday present.
As soon as his grandchildren could walk, he would take them each spring to the strawberry fields and pick gallons of berries just to give them away. The need for his labor on the farm allowed little time for sports, schoolwork, or school activities, but he instinctively knew that learning was the key to more fully enjoying the world around him. Later in life, he preached the value of education to everyone around him.
His mother “held him back” a year from starting school so that his younger sister, Louise, would have a walking companion to cover the three mile walk to and from school each day. He also had to miss days at a time during planting or harvesting season. Even though he added driving a school bus and stocking shelves on weekends at a grocery store to his work week, he still graduated with his class from high school.
After high school and after keeping the books for the grocery owner in “downtown Taylorsville”, he set out to Charlotte to attend Kings Business School and to study accounting with the intent of becoming a banker. Before he could complete the Kings Business program, World War II broke out and Fred, as his Army buddies called him, volunteered.
In 1944, thirty days after D-Day, his unit, the 385th Anti – Aircraft Artillery Battalion, moved across Utah Beach into Normandy. Although the 385th saw limited action, they were close enough at times to hear the exploding bombs and artillery fire and the unit played a rear guard role in the Battle of the Bulge.
Lifelong friendships were forged in Europe during that time, and up until 2009 Fred was one of the key planners for an annual gathering of the so-called “Army boys.” They commissioned a history of their unit’s deployments and experiences and faithfully gathered every summer with their families to celebrate their bond and the freedom they fought for.
Fred’s faith in the underlying goodness of America never wavered after his experiences in 1944 and 1945. After returning home, it was back to education, and he became the first member of his family to go to college, enrolling in Catawba College where he would once again work and go to school. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in accounting and accepted a job at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis.
In 1961 he became the Treasurer of Mills Home, which was originally an orphanage and later a part of the Baptist Children’s Homes of NC. Thurston, or F.T., as he was referred to on the Mills Home campus, and his wife, Helen, would devote over 27 years to working at a place dedicated to helping children who were victims of family problems through no fault of their own. Work turned to mission. There are many untold stories of acts of kindness that F.T. and Helen did behind the scenes to influence the lives of kids.
He loved to watch people grow. F.T had two underlying philosophies. First, was to leave a place better than you found it, and second, was to always give more than you take. While living in Thomasville, he did just that. He was a Sunday School teacher until he was 90, Church deacon for 62 years, Rotary Club President, Thomasville City Council member, Thomasville City School Board Chair, Thomasville Community Hospital Board Chair, and Tom Finch Community YMCA Board chair and member for 30 years.
In 2014, he was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor. It was a fitting testament to his consistent stewardship of family, country, church and community. He worked his entire life helping to make things grow.
In addition to his parents, Fred Thurston was predeceased by all his siblings, Louise Bowman Crouch, Evelyn Bowman, Burrell Bowman, J.D. Bowman, Ralph Bowman, Ray Bowman, Kay Bowman, and Carolyn Bowman.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Helen Harrington Bowman; his daughter, Miriam Bowman Davis and her husband Raymond Davis; his son, Charles Fred Bowman and his wife Mary Henderson Bowman; granddaughter, Meredith Elizabeth Davis; grandsons, John Thurston Bowman and Peter Charles Bowman; and sisters-in-law, Kathryn Bowman, Elaine Bowman, Mary Ann Bowman, Carol Bowman, Ora Lee Hannah, Beauford Swift, and Wrenn Rhodes.
The family will receive friends Monday, April 23, 2018, from 6 – 8 p.m., at J.C. Green & Sons Funeral Home in Thomasville. A private burial will be held Tuesday morning, April 24, 2018 at Carolina Memorial Park of Concord-Kannapolis. A service to celebrate Fred Thurston’s life will be held at Green Street Baptist Church on Tuesday, April 24, at 1:00 p.m.
Memorials may be directed to the Tom A. Finch Community YMCA, 1010 Mendenhall Street, Thomasville, NC 27360.
Online condolences may be sent to www.jcgreenandsons.com.