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‘Doing the right thing’ every day earns Bowers recognition

Terry Bowers, an electronics technician who will retire at year’s end after 35 years, poses in front of Old East.
Terry Bowers, an electronics technician who will retire at year’s end after 35 years, poses in front of Old East.

Some people do great things because of the attention they might get.

Other people do great things because of some inner compass they feel obliged to follow that not only tells right from wrong, but compels them to do what they know is right.

You don’t have to know Terry Bowers long to know into which category he belongs.

“I thought that was over and done with,” Bowers said from a cell phone number that someone in his department had provided for Bowers’ interview about winning a 2007 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award last spring.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Bowers said.

“Well,” the impatient voice on the other end of the line said, “I just want to ask a few questions.”

“What for?” Bowers demanded.

“So I can tell people about some of the unique qualities you possess that made you stand out as an extraordinary employee.”

That appeal fell flat.

“God makes us all the same,” Bowers said. “I’m just a person. We are all blessed to be at this great institution. It’s a privilege.”

Then Bowers continued arguing that no story should be written about him at all. “I’ll be retiring at the end of the year, anyway,” he said, as if that would somehow cancel anyone’s interest in him.

“I respect your desire to be left alone,” the voice on the other end ventured. “But if you refuse to let me write your story, you will be keeping me from doing my job.”

With that, there was a long silence, as if Bowers’ internal compass was twirling in an unexpected direction. Although he didn’t want a big story written about him, neither would it be right for him to keep another man from doing his job.

“How much time do you need?”

‘Great pride in his work’

He is an electronics technician by trade working in Housing Support.

In Bowers’ mind, that job and the way he performs it make him no different or better than anybody else, but that claim would draw an argument from many of the men who have worked with him over the years.

Among them is Marcus Bullett, who in the nominating letter, wrote: “Terry Bowers is one of the most valuable employees that the University of North Carolina could ever ask for.”

In the four years he had known Bowers, Bullett continued, he had yet to meet another employee who cared about the students, the University or his job more.

“He has always stepped up to any challenge without complaining,” Bullett said, and he is always the first to step up whenever there is an emergency.

During Hurricane Isabel, for instance, Bowers and his wife, Dianne (a patient accounts manager for UNC Hospitals), stayed on campus to be available to respond to whatever need might arise.

“His love for helping people is another quality that is appreciated,” Bullett added.

Larry Hicks, director of housing and residential education, described how “Terry’s positive attitude and willingness to take on additional responsibilities” set him apart. In housing construction, the challenge is to ensure that the facilities are ready when students arrive.

“I never have to worry about the electrical part of the project,” Hicks said. “It will be done on time, and done right. Terry is the consummate professional that takes personal pride in his work and that of his team.”

Hicks said Bowers was trained as an electrician and was largely self-taught as an electronics technician. In that role, Hicks added, Bowers was a driving force in the installation of a networked electronic access control system that spans 38 residence halls and nine family apartment buildings across campus. The highly successful project has enhanced the security for more than 8,500 students.

In the 13 years Hicks worked as housing support superintendent, Bowers was one of the handful of employees Hicks said he could count on to respond to any emergency, from manning a chain saw after Hurricane Fran to using a snow shovel to clear steps and sidewalks around residence halls.

“His work ethic is unsurpassed and he stays with the problem until he is sure he is no longer needed,” Hicks wrote. “I realize there are many unsung employees at UNC who perform for no other reason than to do their best, but I don’t think you could find one any more dedicated to this school or its students than Terry Bowers.”

Doing the right thing

Bowers said he came by his work ethic early because he had to.

His dad died when he was about 13 and Bowers, the oldest of two brothers and four sisters, was thrust instantly into being the head of the family. His mother did the best she could to keep food on the table and cover the rent by working long hours in a cotton mill.

But she depended on her children to do what they could to help her make ends meet. Bowers started out pumping gas at the Texaco station on Highway 70 outside of Hillsborough before he was old enough to drive. He made $1 an hour. Later, he hired on doing electrical work for different outfits.

“You did what you had to do,” Bowers said. “But we all did it together. A family is a family.”

As soon as he graduated from Orange County High School in 1970, he married his high school sweetheart, Dianne Summey.

Making ends meet as a husband and soon-to-be-father of a son and a daughter didn’t get any easier.

As Dianne recalled, “He always worked at least two jobs. Sometimes, he worked three and he always threw in some weekend work at the service station.”

In 1971, Dianne got a job at UNC Hospitals in medical information management and is now a patient accounts manager. At her coaxing, her husband came to work at the University two-and-a-half-years later.

Their daughter, Tammy, was born in 1971, their son, Todd, in 1974. His boy, Bowers said, is now 32 and battling a severe form of melanoma. “He fights it every day,” Bowers said.

Talking of his son led Bowers to talk about one of his sisters who had died of the disease, and his own battle with prostate cancer that was discovered last October. They did not catch it as early as doctors would have liked, Bowers said, but he feels good about it since he had the surgery on Feb. 7.

He lost nine days of work and would have come back sooner but he had to wait until they removed a tube. Even then, he marked down the days he was out as vacation because he had so many days he hadn’t used over the years.

His operation, Bowers added, was nothing compared to what Dianne went through in January 2001 when she gave one of her kidneys to Serena Wilson, a co-worker at the hospital and a friend they knew through church.

When asked if he supported his wife’s decision to take such a risk with her own health, he said, “I told her she had to do what is right and righteous.”

Asked if he was a religious man, Bowers answered, “I believe in Jesus Christ.” His church is Mars Hill Baptist Church on Highway 57 north of Hillsborough.

He has attended that church ever since he began dating Dianne. “Her daddy, Lawrence Summey, said I couldn’t date her unless I went, and that’s the way it was.”

A lifetime at Carolina

They have attended Mars Hill Baptist only slightly longer than they have worked at Carolina, Bowers said.

When they retire at the end of December, Dianne will have put in 37 years to his 35, not counting the two-and-a-half years of accumulated sick leave he will be credited when he retires.

Both said that working here has been a pure blessing. As for winning the Massey, he didn’t expect to win the award, Dianne said, or know exactly how to react to all the attention that came with it.

As she put it, “He is all about doing the right thing no matter what and he doesn’t do it for the glory. He does it because it’s the right thing.”

Bowers had an easier time handling the money that comes with a Massey. After taxes, he said, the $6,000 award came to a little more than $3,000 and he handed it all to cancer research. “I didn’t have the money before and people fighting cancer need that money more than I do,” he said.

At that, Bowers indicated that the 15 minutes he had agreed to answer questions was about up. “I’ve got to do a day’s work to get a day’s pay,” he said.

On a whim, the questioner asked Bowers what he had been so busy doing during his lunch break that he had needed to call back to do the interview later that afternoon.

He replied that he had to drive out to the plant to find a co-worker who was sick with cancer. The man had just about run out of sick leave and Bowers wanted to see how many hours of sick leave he could donate to get the man through.

“Was he a good friend?” the questioner asked.

“Didn’t even know him,” Bowers said.

“Why did you think to give a man you don’t even know your unused sick leave?” he was asked.

“Because the man needed it more than me,” Bowers answered with a hint of impatience.

The answer to that question, of course, was totally unnecessary. As Bowers knows, there are some things a man does that speak for themselves.

Bowers heads out for another assignment as part of his job as an electronics specialist with Housing Support.
Bowers heads out for another assignment as part of his job as an electronics specialist with Housing Support.

Originally published by University Gazette: Nov. 14, 2007

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