Raymond Bernard Bowman Sr., who worked at William & Mary for 36 years and was known as "keeper" of the Wren Building, passed away in July 2023. President Emeritus W. Taylor Reveley III LL.D. ’18, HON ’18 and President Emeritus Tim Sullivan ’66 shared this reflection.
The heart of William & Mary beats most strongly in that ancient place, the Sir Christopher Wren Building. Its Great Hall and Chapel are our holy of holies. A very special band of people, a select few, are charged to see to the security and well-being of the Wren and to nurture those who come to visit, to break bread and join in special events, to have important meetings, to teach and learn, and to be married. Bernard Bowman has been among this special band of guardians of the Wren and shepherds of those who come within its walls.
For 30 years, an entire generation, Bernard took wonderful care of the Wren and of everyone who came within it. He was the keeper of the master keys to all parts of the building. Bernard ensured the Wren was ready for classes, tours, weddings and countless other events — including Convocation, when new students flood through the Wren into the welcoming arms of the campus community.
And he was a friend to all who came to the Wren, especially those who needed aid and comfort — whether frazzled tourists, anxious brides, really anxious mothers of the bride, a frustrated student or professor, or a William & Mary president concerned about a major event.
Mr. Bowman had legendary status among brides married in the Wren Chapel. He graced over 1,000 weddings, handling the logistics and soothing the participants for up to three or four ceremonies on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes he had to calm people who got too frisky. To quote Bernard, “I know how to handle them. I can talk to the mother of the bride and if she gets rude with me, I pat her on the shoulder and I tell her ‘Momma, got to cool it now.’ I also joke with them that everything is going to be all right — I got your back.”
Bernard was a man of many dimensions. He blew the sax in high school and became skilled enough at tap dancing to be in the special services while in the U.S. Army in Germany — and to tap again at his 50th wedding anniversary. He played a mean harmonica, tunes from amazing grace to “Our Alma Mater.” He loved jazz — Jimmy Smith on the organ, Kenny G., Dave Brubeck. When it came to football, Bernard rooted for the Dallas Cowboys, with a salute to the old Washington Football Team from time to time. He was not able to make many Tribe games because he always worked weddings on Saturdays.
The highest honor bestowed on a member of William & Mary’s support staff is the Charles and Virginia Duke Award, given for exceptional service. To great acclaim, Mr. Bowman received the Duke Award in 2009.
Great institutions are enriched by the work and lives of special people. Bernard Bowman was such a person. As keeper of the Wren Building, Bernard worked in William & Mary’s most sacred place. He knew it and proved more than worthy of the honor. He was always warm, gracious and dignified. His reverence for the space was evident in the way he made all who came feel both welcomed and honored. Yet he always had a light touch expressed most vividly in his irrepressible sense of humor.
Mr. Bowman was that rarest of persons. He was a Virginia gentleman.