Remembering William Bowen Jr., White House butler

Mr. Bowen

Inspired by director/co-producer Lee Daniel’s film, “The Butler,” starring Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines who served 34 years at the White House as a butler, I highlighted a news release and an obituary from Nellie Davis regarding her cousin, William John Bowen Jr., who passed away on April 1.

Lonneika Watson Epps and daughter Mari’Ahna donned colorful Easter finery.
William John Bowen Jr.

An only child who was born on Nov. 1, 1919, he was educated in the District of Columbia’s public schools, graduating in 1937 from Armstrong High School.

He served three years in the United States Army and was honorably discharged in 1948.

He was employed as a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service and as a mail carrier at the White House.

Mr. Bowen worked part-time as a butler at the White House, a second-generation White House butler, beginning with President Eisenhower and continuing through President Clinton’s first term.

Black people built the White House, and have been serving the presidents and their families from that time forward as maids, butlers, and cooks.

On Obama’s presidency

In a 2008 CBS News interview at his Silver Spring, Maryland, home – speaking on the ascension of President Barack Obama to the White House – Mr. Bowen said:

“I’m very proud of the fact we’re going to have an African-American president, and I think the help is going to be pleased to be working for an African-American president.”

Mr. Bowen, who started working at the White House in 1957, continued to say, “I never thought, coming up, that this would ever happen. Not in my lifetime,” he mentioned.

Mr. Bowen, who enjoyed the latest in fashion and was meticulous in coordinating his clothing, enjoyed cross-country travel, fishing, hunting, and photography.

Joining Shiloh Baptist Church in 1957, where the Rev. Dr. Wallace Charles Smith now serves as the pastor, Mr. Bowen was a faithful member of the Faith Circle, later known as Faith-Friendly Circle, and the Senior Citizens Club. On Sept. 21, 2007, Mr. Bowen was honored as a 50-year member.

An Easter snapshot

Easter, a celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice for giving salvation and eternal life, offered hope to Lonneika Watson Epps and her daughter, as well as others across our nation and the world.

Lonneika and daughter Mari’Ahna, 7, donned colorful Easter finery, staying behind at First Church – the Rev. Gillard S. Glover, pastor – to allow me to snap their photo.

Lonneika, a nurse, attended the 10:30 a.m. service with Mari’Ahna.

Those attending the sunrise service were also touched by the blessing.

Residents share their pet peeves

Nichole Mboko shared that some people just don’t have good communication skills.

Because folks are wired differently, having contrasting thoughts, varying likes and dislikes, I invited four Palm Coasters to share their pet peeves, the things that are the most annoying.

Consequently, hairstylist Nichole Mboko said, “One of my pet peeves is when people don’t communicate directly.

“And, to me, it’s a pet peeve that’s very frustrating because it leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding, assumptions, and people’s own interpretations, which may be completely different than what the person is trying to communicate,” she said.

Then, I asked, “Why do you suppose people do that? Do you think they do that on purpose?”

“I don’t think it’s done directly,” she answered.

“Some people just don’t have good communication skills, and that could be for a number of reasons,” Mboko continued.

“Maybe they are shy, or maybe something happened one time where their voice was shut down, so they are not as straightforward as they want to be.

“Or, they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by being too direct.

“I don’t think it’s done intentionally,“ Mboko reiterated, “but it leads to a lot of confusion because we are all human. We are all different. So, what might mean something to one person might mean something different to another.”

Educator Gertrude Hannah shared her intent of not having a pet peeve because “everyday is good!”

“When I get up, if I can breathe and see, and talk and hear, that’s a blessing,” she said.

“So, if anything doesn’t sit right,” Hannah added, “I’ll try to change it.

“And, if I can’t,” she continued, “I move on to the next thing.”

Former executive secretary Gloria Benjamin said that “anything that doesn’t start on time” presents a problem.

I posed another question inquiring as to whether the situation infuriates her. She answered, “It annoys me.”

So, I asked, “How do you deal with it?” and Benjamin answered, “I just go with the flow,” which becomes “even more annoying,” she added.

Dealing with racial tension

Retired market foreman David Fowlkes said that his pet peeve is “going into a store where they treat you like you are not a human being – especially in some stores (where) there’s racial tension,” he added, and where the tension is quickly felt.

“You know what’s going on,” he said, “like they don’t want you there.”

Fowlkes deals with it by trying to avoid those situations as much as possible.

“But you can’t sometimes,” he affirmed, “because to me, you just treat them like any human being and just go about your business.”

Fowlkes cited another example:

It seems that he and his wife, Leona, had rescued a White man at a fast-food chain from leaving his take-out order from atop his car.

The man graciously thanked Fowlkes and Leona.

But, a White woman, who saw what had happened, said, “Most Black people wouldn’t stop (to help) when they see something on top of a car.”

Fowlkes said he had lots of things he could have said, but he answered, “We are from New York, and that’s what we do.”

And so, he and Leona just went about their business.

As always, remember our prayers for the sick, afflicted, the prodigal son, or daughter, and the bereaved.


Birthday wishes to Dorothy “Booby” Robinson, Carolyn Bridges, April 26; Jimmy Morrison, April 28; Les Town, April 30; and David Eurie, May 1.



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