For so many years, Washington “Sonny” Bowie rang the bell for those in need.
On Saturday, April 21, it rang for him as the longest standing member of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire. Co. was memorialized by his family, church and fellow volunteer firefighters.
Bowie, who died on March 29 at the age of 89, was honored with the fire company version of taps as the siren tolled during the memo1ial service held at the Church of the Holy Comfo1ter.
For his loyal friends from the volunteer fire company, the send-off was a perfect way to say goodbye and thank you for the “gentleman” who selflessly gave of himself to fulfill a desire to help others.
Lutherville volunteer Tim Mullin said ringing the siren was the company’s way of saying farewell to a man who spirited himself from his home to ride the engines or simply welcome back the other volunteers who responded to a call with a nod and a hot cup of coffee.
“He was truly a remarkable person,” said Mullin who lives in the house on Francke Avenue where Bowie was raised.
His need to serve and the fact that his father was one of the founding members of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. brought him to the station at the crisp young age of 16 and it held his attention from the time the engines were pulled by horses until his mid 80’s before his failing eyesight forced him off the vehicles.
“One of the saddest things I had to do was take him off the firetrucks,” remarked Jim Doran, a fellow volunteer who respected Bowie for his engineering expertise and liberal political stance.
During World War II while serving in Burma, Bowie flew missions and was shot down three times. He also helped to build bridges to keep soldiers well supplied.
Having contracted tuberculosis, he sought respite at the Eudowood Sanitarium.
As a civil engineer, he helped construct the Bay Bridge. And it was not unheard of seeing him climb the rafters during storms while the bridge was still under construction to en.sure the cables were withstanding the pressure of the storm.
“It was typical of what Sonny would do,” said Doran, a Hereford resident.
Bowie also enjoyed a reputation around the firehouse for knowing the location of every fire hydrant having worked for years for Baltimore County’s water department and for his methodical ringing of the siren once every second.
But his sense of humor was never far from the surface.
Doran recounted a time when they grabbed hold of the small-sized super balls which glowed in the dark.
One day, Doran, Bowie and others gathered in a darkened to watch the balls buzz about the room in a psychedelic swirl.
A lieutenant at the time entered the room, witnessed a group of grown men playing with a child’s toy and left the room shaking his head.
Bob Sinton of Towson said the outreach among the younger volunteers after Bowie’s health began to fail underscores how well respected and liked he was.
Sinton noted many of the volunteers would drive Bowie to pick up medicine or his clothes from the dry cleaners.
“He hated being a burden,” Sinton noted. “We didn’t think of him as a burden.”
Bowie is survived by his wife, the former Mary McIntyre Pennington, children Jane Allen Bowie, Marion Eliason Robbins, Washington Bowie VI, and Landon Armistead Bowie; and grandchildren Richard Pa and W. Alexander Sitorius.
Contributions can be made in memory of Bowie to the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. E-mail Seana Kelly-Coffin.