RPM Bowden, lifelong Episcopal churchman, dies at 80

October 5, 2010

RPM Bowden, a lifelong Episcopal churchman who served as a deputy to 11 General Conventions and two terms on the church's Executive Council, died Oct. 5 in Atlanta after an extended illness. He was 80.

Born Richard Perry Milas Bowden in San Antonio, Texas, he was known throughout the church simply as "RPM." He was the eldest of three sons born to an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Henry Bowden, and Minnie Lee Bowden of Atlanta. He was proud of saying that he first donned the vestments of an acolyte at the age of 2.

From Texas he moved in 1934 to North Carolina, where his father was rector of St. Mark's, Wilmington. Another call in 1946 took the family to Tuskegee, Alabama, and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. As a 1950 graduate of Tuskegee Institute, Bowden came to Atlanta to teach at Booker T. Washington High School. He remained an educator and administrator for more than 40 years, teaching instrumental music and later focusing on community education. He was inducted in 2002 into the National Community Education Association Hall of Fame.

Bowden was sent to General Convention from the Diocese of Atlanta for the first time in 1973. He was elected a deputy seven more times and as an alternate deputy twice, filling in both times for other deputies. He also was elected to serve on the Episcopal Church's Executive Council from 1994 to 2000 and from 2003 to 2009.

As a deputy, he took a leadership role on a variety of General Convention committees, including five times as sergeant-at-arms chair for the House of Deputies legislative committee. He served two terms on both the joint commission on world mission and on the board of the archives and its site selection commission, as well as on the House of Deputies dispatch of business committee. From 1994-1997, he served as a member of the joint standing committee on nominations.

As an member of Executive Council, he served as liaison to the Committee on HIV-AIDS and the Committee on Anti-Racism. He also was active in the Union of Black Episcopalians and the Episcopal Urban Caucus.

Bowden was connected to at least three Episcopal congregations in the Diocese of Atlanta: St. Luke's, Atlanta, where in 1908 his father, then 6, attended a wedding and made up his mind to become a priest; St. Paul's, Atlanta, the church where his mother grew up; and Absalom Jones Episcopal Center, which serves four historically black colleges and universities. In his service to parishes, he was a vestry clerk, treasurer, junior and senior warden, and a lay eucharistic minister.

At the diocesan level, he served on the standing committee, executive board, the human sexuality task force, the commission on ministry, finance committee, budget committee, commission on congregational growth, commission on higher education, and as a trustee for the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennesee.

When interviewed in 2007 for Pathways, the quarterly journal of the Diocese of Atlanta, Bowden talked about his legacy. "When I was growing up," he said, "every morning we had devotions as a family, reading Morning Prayer and Bible lessons from the lectionary. It was drilled into me that my call was as a baptized Christian ... I want to be known for serving the church ... from birth to death."

His survivors include a son, Richard Bowden. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. Bishop of Atlanta J. Neil Alexander will preside, assisted by the Very Rev. Robert Wright, rector of St. Paul's, Atlanta. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 308 Peyton Road SW, Atlanta, GA 30311.

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