A Life Lived: Fred Bowers was an ace photographer

Published 1:28 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

BY ROZELLA HARDIN
Editorial Director
When it comes to taking pictures, it’s not the best camera or the most expensive lenses but the eyes of the photographer that’s important. You have to be able to see the photograph and Fred Bowers was one of the best when it came to photographers. He was a master at his craft.
Fred, who died February 21 at the age of 84, spent his entire working career making photographs. As a school photographer, he captured the faces of thousands of children, traveling to school all across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to make yearly photos. He also made the photos of graduating seniors, and captured milestones in the lives of many other people — anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, and family reunions.
Those school pictures traveled with soldiers in their billfolds to foreign lands and were much-talked about subjects by grandparents.
Fred began his career as a photographer for the Elizabethton High School yearbook and was voted “Most Artistic.” While still a high school student, he worked at the Elizabethton STAR as a photographer. Upon his graduation from high school he was offered a job at Coleman’s Studio, where he worked until his retirement in 1999.
Fred was a master at his craft. His wife, Ruth, shared that the first school photos Fred made were students at the one-room school at Hopson Elementary in the Roan Mountain community. “His talent was God-given, and along the way he worked under some good people, who were a tremendous help to him — among them were Gordon Ward, STAR photographer, Mack Morriss, STAR editor, and Mr. Waddell, who was publisher of the STAR when Fred worked there during his school years,” shared Ruth.
She noted that Fred’s first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye and his first published photo was that of Rick Hughes getting his Eagle Scout Award. Over the years Fred had used all kinds of cameras, including digital ones, as well as his phone. He would say, “Everyone can make photos now — if they have a phone.”
However, not everyone can make a photo and capture the soul of a person as Fred did.
His pastor, Ray Amos of First United Methodist Church, at Fred’s Celebration of Life service, described Fred as a jokester — a regular pill bottle around town. “He had a powerful gift of putting smiles on people’s faces and he could cheer you up real fast. If you saw him in an unhappy state, it was a rare thing. He was my buddy and we enjoyed each other,” shared Preacher Amos.
“Who could count the number of photos he has taken. We do not know the emotions those photos generated. He didn’t just point a camera and snap. He sought through his photos to preserve the very thing that God created — smiles, hopes, memories, etc.,” said Pastor Amos.
Making photos was not the only thing Fred did, even though it was how he made his living. He was the father of three girls and grandfather to four boys and a girl — all of whom were his pride and joy. In his retirement years, that’s where his joy came from shared Ruth.
“His favorite thing was being a pop. He took his grandchildren to soccer games, went to softball games, band performances. Whatever they did, he was there to support them and cheer them on,” said Ruth.
She noted that Fred was also an excellent cook. “Everyone loved his rolls. He did some fancy cooking and cooked often for the family,” Ruth said.
Ruth shared that one of Fred’s secrets to making good gravy was to make figure eights when stirring it. “It will never stick if you do that,” said Ruth.
Fred was also a talented cartoonist, creating personalized, hand-drawn “Pop cards” for his family and close friends on special occasions.
Fred was a 50-year member of Dashiell Lodge No. 238, Past Worthy Patron of Sycamore Chapter No. 163, Order of the Eastern Star, and former Advisory Board of the Order of Rainbow for Girls.
He was a faithful member of the First United Methodist Church of Elizabethton.
When Fred Bowers had a camera in his hand, it was his way of feeling, touching, and loving. What he captured on film was something captured forever. Those photographs spark memories that last a lifetime.
Fred Bowers had a talent for turning even the most humdrum “grip-and-grin” photo opportunities into a memory-making image.

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