Two community leaders

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2017

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Two county leaders have died during the past two weeks. Each of them contributed mightily to the welfare of Isle of Wight County and, while we mourn their loss, we should celebrate what they were and what they meant to our community.

A profile in courage

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Everybody who knew Gene Lowery has a Gene story.

One of my favorites was Gene’s description of driving to work as a traffic light construction supervisor. He would routinely stop by 7-Eleven and buy a large cup of coffee. Gene joked that he never had any trouble driving his pickup truck and juggling a cup of hot coffee with his one arm. It was only when he bought a doughnut to eat as well that it became a challenge.

Randolph Barlow enjoys the story of the first time he met Gene and Donna. They drove to Farmers Service to talk about some materials they needed to build their home on Tormentor’s Lake. Donna asked Randolph to come to the car to talk with Gene, and there, in the back seat, lay Gene not only with one arm, but a broken leg in a full cast, talking about what he needed to build his house!

But anecdotes aside, Gene lived among us for three decades, and during those years, he and his wife Donna together taught us a lot about courage and perseverance.

Gene lost his left arm at the shoulder in Vietnam. The injury could have made a bitter man of him. It could have bred in him a victim’s mentality.

But not Gene Lowery. Despite pain that he endured from the day of his amputation by a flailing helicopter rotor until his death last week, he forged ahead, determined to overcome whatever hurdles lay before him and rather than mourn his loss, to enjoy what he had.

His primary focus was on young people and their education. He was his children’s most strident cheerleader, but he went beyond being a soccer dad. He was a PTA member (and often president) for 18 years, but also carried his love of education to the Isle of Wight School Board, where he served for six years. And his work with Christian Outreach is legendary.

In so many ways, Gene Lowery set an example for all who knew him. And we’re better for having known him.

A not-so-simple farmer

Bob Alphin lived for his family, his farm and his community. In that sense, he epitomized what community leadership in a rural county is all about.

He championed farming and farmers, serving in numerous positions where he could lobby for a fair shake for those in Southeast Virginia who still till the land.

But he reached beyond his career and family as well. He served six years on the Isle of Wight School Board in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That was, for those old enough to remember, the period in which county schools became fully integrated. It was a tense period in which public school supporters, black and white, showed uncommon courage in bringing about a peaceful change of dramatic proportions.

Bob Alphin’s unfailing good humor and polite nature did much to bridge troubled waters during that time, and should be remembered positively by all who have benefited from his work.

Bob and his wife Juanita enjoyed life together and to its fullest and, in recent years, we renewed our relationship each summer when they would travel to Smithfield almost every Friday evening for the summer concerts held on the newspaper lawn. It didn’t much matter who was playing or how good the music was. Bob and Mrs. Alphin were here to enjoy the concert and to greet friends of a lifetime.

Bob, and the extended Alphin family, have been important fixtures in the Windsor community for a very long time. Family members, including Bob’s son, Supervisor Rex Alphin, continue to exhibit the leadership taught to them by their parents’ generation. And we’re all the beneficiaries.

Well done, Bob. We’re in your debt.