When the sad news first broke that Harold Bowen had died on Tuesday at the age of 95, you could almost sense the town shifting slightly on its axis. And the news, aided by the winds of Facebook, became its own swirling force of nature.
It's impact seemed to hit many of us.
Then, in 1986 — five years into his retirement from education — he became a two-term mayor of Lexington. So you can see, between his years in education and his years of civic service, he was positioned to provide guidance, direction, assurance and life lessons to many of us.
I came to Lexington in 1976 as a rookie sportswriter for The Dispatch. Harold was one of the first people I met who helped make me feel comfortable in my new surroundings. He was already doing sports broadcasts on the radio for WLXN, in the middle of what would eventually become more than 50 years as the Voice of the Yellow Jackets.
I actually made it a point whenever I covered Friday night football games in the press box to sit as close to the radio booth as I could, so I could hear Harold on the air. Without the commercials.
He was not a natural. His voice wasn't particularly rich in the way that you would think a radio voice should be. And he'd get excitable on the air, sometimes losing sight of himself. He once told me a story about the time he was covering a Lexington football game, broadcasting with the desk-mounted microphone. Lexington's Joe McIntosh had just broken free for a 62-yard TD pass reception at a critical moment, and Harold jumped to his feet.
"I stood up and kept broadcasting," Harold said, "but that only put me further from the mic. Joe scored and the Jackets won, but I don't think anybody heard me because I was so far away from the mic. Now we have headsets."
But that was OK. In fact, it was more than OK. I always thought Harold was the epitome of the small town Southern radio sports announcer, which gave those Friday night games its own sense of richness — and humor.
Harold, a man who could laugh at himself, was more than that, of course. Like many others, I could tell you stories of his kindness, of his welcoming smile, and of his friendship, of his faith, of his going out of his way to help. And they'd all be true.
And it's why, as a community, we're trying to stitch the gaping hole in our hearts today.