Rob Fowler said joining the Boy Scouts saved him from taking a dark path during his childhood.
The now partner and CEO of Turner Wood & Smith, remembers growing up as a “latch-key kid.” When he was 6 years old, Fowler said his parents went through a divorce, and he ended up moving from Gainesville to the Asheville area to live with his mother and younger sister.
“Mom sometimes had to work two jobs to take care of us,” he said. “ … It was a tough time.”
While attending church, Fowler said several local Scout leaders took him under their wings, inspiring him to eventually become an Eagle Scout.
“I really don’t know where I’d be today had it not been for scouting,” he said.
Fowler said the foundation built by the Boy Scouts sparked his spirit for helping the community, something he holds close to his heart. During his adulthood he has served on over 20 different boards of various nonprofits including the North Georgia Community Foundation, Eagle Ranch, Vision 2030, United Way of Hall County and North Georgia Heart Foundation.
“There’s very few organizations he hasn’t been involved in,” Joe Wood Jr., chairman of Turner Wood & Smith’s board, said. “Not only does he join the organization, he rises up to leadership positions in it and strives to make that organization the best it can be.”
On Monday, June 21, the Gainesville Rotary Club presented Fowler with the Guardian of Ethics Award, then named him Man of the Year. Fowler said he was shocked to hear his name called for a second time and felt “very honored and humbled.”
“I was the 83rd Man of the Year,” he said. “I look back on all those names and you think how much better our community is because of these people that came before me … If you think about these men and women of the year, there were some people who planted a lot of seeds a long time ago, and our community is benefiting from it today.”
At 14, Fowler said he moved from North Carolina to Georgia to live with his dad, Bob Fowler Sr., Helen’s former mayor. He later attended North Georgia College, now known as the University of North Georgia, then went on active duty as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Fowler said he served on active duty for three years.
Afterward, he took on a job with Provident Life & Accident Insurance Company in Chattanooga, and worked there for around 10 years. Not wanting to immerse himself in corporate America for the rest of his life, Fowler said he sought a fresh start in Gainesville.
“At that point I was 36 years old, and I had two children,” he said. “But, at the same time, I felt this draw to come back. I have no regrets at all.”
Fowler said he was hired at Turner Wood & Smith by Wood for his expertise in employee benefits, something the insurance company wasn’t focusing on at the time. When he started in 1996, he said the business had around 12 employees. Today, it has grown to a 41-person staff, 11 of which deal with employee benefits.
Turner Wood & Smith was previously owned by a large insurance brokerage out of Richmond, Virginia. And, in 2004, Wood and Fowler teamed up to buy the agency back.
“I feel very blessed to have been here,” Fowler said. “We’ve had amazing employees that have been with us for such a long time and have all grown up together. It has been very rewarding.”
Fowler said he will soon finish his two-year term as chair of the North Georgia Community Foundation, then go on to serve as president of the Boy Scouts’ Northeast Georgia Council.
Through the foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which started in March 2020, he said $1.2 million has been distributed to nonprofits in the community. Through the CARES Act, the North Georgia Community Foundation was chosen by the city of Gainesville to use $250,000 for providing food and paying utility bills for residents in need. The February-May report for the Gainesville CARES funding shows that 655 local individuals were given aid and 84,769 pounds of food was distributed.
“I was very proud of our staff for all they accomplished in 2020 and the first part of 2021 with everything we were facing,” Fowler said. “Life is about perspective, and staying positive takes you a long way. I don’t want to take for granted what this amazing community has done. I’m blessed to call it home.”