In the last of his thousands of public speeches, the Rev. Leroy Bowman, Annapolis's crusader for civil rights and racial tolerance, told his admirers that even after all he had done, he still missed his wife.
Julia Elizabeth Coates died in 1990, after a 60-year marriage. The 94-year-old preacher joined her June 6, the day after he delivered his final address. He died of cardiac arrest while working on a sermon he planned to deliver at First Baptist Church on West Washington Street, where he was pastor for 61 years.
Annapolis politicians, clergy and residents mourned last week in ceremonies that honored the memory of a man who was equally well regarded by whites and blacks in a city that has traditionally been divided by race.
When African Americans in Annapolis began to fight segregation in the mid-1960s, Bowman was there to fire them up. When the city teetered on the edge of a riot after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Bowman was there to calm them.
Hundreds of people, members of First Baptist and some of Annapolis's most prominent politicians, including Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R), turned out last week to give their thanks.
"He must have done more for this city than any single human being," said Roger W. "Pip" Moyer, the former mayor who walked the streets of Annapolis with Bowman after King's assassination as a show of solidarity. "Washington was on fire, Baltimore was on fire," he said, but together they kept the peace in Annapolis.
The city's first lady at the time, current Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D), paid tribute to Bowman by proclaiming that "his power was the shining example of one who led a good and productive life filled with love for others." She urged Annapolis residents to follow his example.
The only thing missing at the memorials was the booming voice of Bowman, who was raised in Washington and worked as a Treasury Department messenger before coming to Annapolis is 1943.
Even in his old age, he remained a powerful public speaker. When he delivered a sermon, he threw every inch of his tall, bony body into it. Occasionally, he would step away from the pulpit to mime the roaring of a lion, dance in joy or sing a song. His sermons were famously lengthy, but never dull, touching on the Gospel, morals, politics and anything that captured his interest.
"I'm not a helicopter preacher," he would often say, making fun of members of the clergy who would drop in, make a short speech and then move on to the next part of the ceremony. "I'm a 747. I need a looooong runway."
When he was not the only speaker, meaning he needed to follow a time limit, he would gleefully break the rules. "You were all raised well," he would tell his audience, "and you won't dare interrupt a 94-year-old man." He was so respected he nearly always got to speak as long as he wanted.
"Reverend Bowman was a prince and the dean of preachers," said Alderman George O. Kelley (D-Ward 4), a City Council member who has run small ministries in Annapolis. "His wisdom and his forthrightness and righteousness will be remembered for years to come."
Bowman was best known to the Annapolis community for his role in the civil rights struggle. In his last years, as African Americans began to gain political power in the city -- Steele is black, as are three members of the nine-person City Council -- he worked as diligently for the city's growing Hispanic population, establishing a Spanish-speaking ministry at First Baptist Church.
He was also the city's first black public housing commissioner and always took a special interest in Bowman Court, a public housing project named for him.
"He felt strongly that he had some obligation, a responsibility, to help," said Alderwoman Classie Hoyle (D-Ward 3). "He talked with those kids and told them how important it was for them to do good, to go to school."
He would also advise those who were powerful, or soon to be. Judge Clayton Greene Jr., who now on the Maryland Court of Appeals, noted that Bowman had testified to his character in 1987, when Greene was up for appointment to District Court.
"He was a true public servant," Greene said. "He wasn't doing anything for personal gratification; he did it because it was the right thing."
In the background, however, was the pain of losing his wife. Bowman met Julia Coates in the sixth grade at Garrison Elementary School in Washington and decided to court her.
"She was such a refined little girl, so delicate in her prime," Bowman said once. "When she grows up, she is going to need somebody to take care of her, and I'm going to be the one to do it."
With plenty of eloquence, and an automobile, he outmaneuvered several rivals and married her in 1930. Pictures of her adorned the home he had built on Forest Drive. Bowman never had children.
Kirby McKinney, the head of the Stanton Community Center in downtown Annapolis, where Bowman gave his last speech -- in honor of a friend's 85th birthday -- remembered that Bowman had mentioned his wife.
"He talked about missing his wife and wondered how she was doing," McKinney said. "Maybe to answer that question, he had to come here and find out."