When the University convenes in Cannon Chapel at noon on April 2 to celebrate the life of the late Henry Bowden, former chairman of the Board of Trustees, we will do more than rejoice in the memory of an alumnus. We will also note the swift passage of an earlier Emory into history. If that passage is not yet complete (some members of that earlier generation are still, thankfully, among us), neither is the work that they began and bequeathed to us. So, on April 2 we will also challenge ourselves to live up to that earlier Emory's promise.
Not that the earlier Emory was perfect. The Emory College class that Henry Bowden entered in 1928-all white men-was a tenth the size of this year's freshman class. His law school class of 1934 included but 26 men, all white. They were, nonetheless, a more diverse lot in their way than they now appear through the lens of history. The Emory students in those early Depression years included well-heeled graduates of Atlanta's finest schools, as well as farmers' sons who found, even in the mud of Druid Hills, an unfamiliar sophistication. In time, some would become prominent Eisenhower Republicans, while others would remain yellow-dog Democrats all their lives.
Among Bowden's fellow students in those years was the man who would help establish The Emory Clinic, become a health-care adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and return to Atlanta as the confidant of Robert Woodruff; another would become the youngest college president in the country; still another would become IRS Commissioner and later chair the Board of Ethics for the City of Atlanta; and yet another would document for the U.S. Supreme Court the harm of segregated education, thereby undergirding the Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Theirs was a remarkable generation. They manifested a lifelong gratitude for their hard-won education and unwavering affection for each other and for Emory. These attitudes led them, in turn, to nurture their alma mater toward greatness. In this respect, Henry Bowden probably had no peers.
In a speech to Emory alumni in January 1961, Bowden said, "Of . . . [the] status quo Emory should want no part. If Emory is to lead in the field of education, then its board of trustees, its administration, its faculty and its alumni must have vision, must be dreamers, must dare to get out in front with new ideas, new approaches, a willingness to experiment and above all a determination to maintain an intellectually free and stimulating atmosphere."
That understanding of a university's end impelled him, the next year, to lead the fight to overturn a Georgia law that prohibited private colleges from integrating without losing their state tax exemption. When the state Supreme Court struck down the unconstitutional law, a better Emory-and a better state-became possible.
What distinguished Bowden and others of his student era was an inspiring ability to rise above their parochial interests. A devout Methodist all his life, he defended the academic freedom of Emory College Professor Thomas J.J. Altizer to publish a book titled God Is Dead. A son of the segregated South, he and others of his generation saw the great potential of a differently ordered civil society. A product of a small liberal arts college and a small, regional law school, he seized the moment on which to turn Emory's course toward national prominence and international reach. For it was he, while serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees beginning in 1957, who helped to forge the relationships that made the Woodruff gift possible and who then, in 1979, shepherded the transfer of that fund before retiring from the board.
Bowden himself would have been loath to take much credit for anything of greatness that arose from his work. As he told the 1979 graduates at commencement, "You must know that all this great world in which we live was not created by one of us but by a group of us." This truth about the communal basis for great accomplishments and for the smallest good work he knew from his own rich experience of friendship and community.
He brought to Emory an enormous gift for nurturing friendship. Yet that gift was also a seed that found hospitable soil on this campus. His career of leadership in student and, later, alumni activities was probably unparalleled, and earned him the sobriquet "Mr. Emory." But it was no individual achievement he sought. The community he formed-and was formed by-held his loyalty. And in time that community made a world of difference in this place.
So, while we pause to remember on April 2, we will also reflect on what Henry Bowden would expect of us as we shoulder the load he carried so well and for so long. Of one thing I am certain: he would tolerate no compromising of standards. He wrote in one of his countless essays: "It is not Emory's role to provide mediocre training for a select few, for the world is even now too overrun with mediocrity. It is Emory's function to provide leadership. . . . Anything short of this is nothing but a compromise with mediocrity, which is repulsive to those who love Emory."
Gary Hauk is Secretary of the University.
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