The echo of Bob Fowler Sr.’s legacy will continue to ring from the bells of Grace Episcopal Church into the Gainesville community.
Fowler, a longtime Gainesville resident and former mayor of Helen, died at the age of 88 on Jan. 14.
“You can hear the bells chiming across from Brenau campus,” Bob Fowler’s son, Rob said. “A lot of people in town say to me, ‘I heard the bells today and thought of your dad.’”
Rob Fowler said the bells were one of his dad’s proudest achievements.
Bob and Linda, his wife of 50 years, donated the four bells in 2005. They weigh 2,778 pounds combined and were cast at the Paccard Bell Foundry in Annecy, France.
The bells play the musical notes A, D, E and F. Rob Fowler said the bells are marked with the names of his father, mother and two sisters.
Bob Fowler devoted years of his life toward serving others. After graduating from the University of Georgia, he left to serve in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955, which included a tour in Korea.
He was elected president of the community service organization Gainesville Jaycees in 1960 and 1961.
At 30 years old, Bob Fowler was named the Gainesville Jaycees Young Man of the Year and one of the Georgia Chamber’s five Outstanding Young Men in Georgia.
Bob Fowler set his sights on Helen in the late ‘60s and was elected to the Helen City Council in 1972. Rob Fowler said his dad coordinated the renovation of Helen into an alpine village and major tourist attraction.
Jeff Ash, former mayor of Helen and one the city’s current commissioners, said he blames Bob for his political career.
“He was running for mayor and he pulled one over on me,” Ash said. “In ‘74 he signed me up to run for a council seat and paid my entry fee. I won the election by one vote.”
The two worked together for years, playing instrumental roles in rewriting rules and ordinances, and forming new committees. Bob Fowler served two terms as the first Helen mayor under the new form of government.
“Bob’s biggest contribution was taking charge of how we govern,” Ash said. “He was very precise. He helped us make good contacts on both the state and federal level, which led to funding and growth.”
Rob Fowler said he fondly remembers his time spent alongside his dad during the ‘70s when Bob Fowler served as the mayor of Helen. At the time he said the town only had around 250 residents; however, the number of people in Helen could jump as high as 50,000 over the weekend because of the new alpine village.
“As a mayor he had to do a lot of work himself,” Rob Fowler said. “That’s a labor of love of your community because we had one policeman and we didn’t have a big city staff.”
Steve Gilliam and Dick Valentine both became close friends of Bob Fowler when serving on the Chattahoochee Country Club Board in Gainesville.
Gilliam said he was a lot younger than Bob Fowler when he joined the board in the late ‘80s, and within a year he found “the greatest mentor ever.”
“He was a mentor of mentors,” Gilliam said. “He probably is the most influential man in my life, regarding leadership. I never saw him ruffled and he had a great laugh. You could not be around him and not smile.”
Valentine also looked up to Bob Fowler as a role model.
“He’s probably the most generous, giving man that I’ve ever know,” Valentine said. “He was a true leader, he did a lot. He’s just one of my favorites. I loved him and I’m going to miss him.”
Rob Fowler said while his dad had a significant impact on the people of Gainesville and Helen, Bob Fowler had an even larger impact on his family through instilling a spirit of giving back to the community.
Nearly a month before Bob Fowler passed, his grandson, Robert III, sent him a heartfelt letter expressing his appreciation for his grandfather.
In the letter his grandson wrote that he has always been proud to call Bob his grandfather.
“I would be remiss if I did not tell you how much I love you, how much I appreciate you, how much I thank you for giving me and our family the opportunities you did,” he wrote. “You have made a profound impact on your community, our family and selfishly, me. I love you, I always have and I always will.”
The Fowler family will host an informal visitation from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17 at the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville. A private inurnment will precede the memorial service in the All Souls’ Columbarium Garden at Grace Episcopal Church. The memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Grace Episcopal Church.