Bertie H. Bowman | His Life & Legacy
Bertie H. Bowman | His Life & Legacy
Arriving in the nation’s capital in 1944, Bertie Bowman is the longest-serving African-American staff member on Capitol Hill. From sweeping the steps to working in the coffee shop and the Capitol barbershop—Bowman held several jobs in the U.S. Senate, ultimately rising to become the Assistant Hearing Coordinator for the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, one of the most powerful committees in Congress.
Herbert “Bertie” Bowman was born in the small town of Summerton, South Carolina, in 1931. His precise birth date is uncertain, Bowman believes he was born on April 12, 1931.
A 12-year-old Bowman met Senator Burnet R. Maybank (D-SC), while he was campaigning for re-election outside of a local store. Maybank addressed the crowd as he was leaving and said, “If you’re ever in Washington, come by and see me.” Bowman recalls asking him, “If I come to Washington, DC, can I come by and see you?” Maybank replied “Yes.” A year later, Mr. Bowman left home and went to Washington, DC.
“When I got to Union Station, man, I thought that Union Station was Washington. All those lights. I’d never seen that many lights before.”
Leaving Union Station, Bowman saw the Capitol and remembered Senator Maybank‘s words. Far from home, with few resources, Bowman recalls the considerable amount of assistance—and kindness—he received from DC workers and those just passing by.
After spending several nights sleeping on the benches at Union Station, Bowman succeeded in finding the Senator, who quickly arranged Bowman’s first job in Washington—sweeping the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It was only later that Bowman learned the job had been an unofficial one: Maybank was paying Bowman’s salary out of his own pocket.
For sixty years, Bertie Bowman witnessed history in the making: the death of FDR, World War II, Brown vs. Board of Education, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and Watergate. A proponent of unconditional kindness, he’s formed many enduring friendships throughout his career on Capitol Hill.
This includes former President Barack Obama, with whom he worked on the Foreign Relations Committee for three years. Also, former President Bill Clinton worked for Bowman as a young messenger for the Committee when he was a junior at Georgetown University. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry also worked closely with Bowman as did Vice President Joe Biden—and many other notable leaders on Capitol Hill.
By the mid-1950s, Bowman had established himself as a jack-of-all-trades around the Capitol. With each step, Bowman’s can-do attitude turned him into a mentor, advocate, community leader and even published author. His autobiography, released in 2008, chronicles his time spent in Washington, DC and includes a personal forward written by former President Bill Clinton. From his time spent on the janitorial staff, to his experience coordinating with powerful committee chairmen, Mr. Bowman knows best how to utilize his depth of understanding with how Capitol Hill works and in order to make a true difference.
Mr. Bowman’s service to the Credit Union began in 1966 as a member of the Credit Committee. He joined the Board of Directors in 1975, totaling 44 consecutive years on the Board including two terms as the Board’s Chairman. Supporting the Credit Union for nearly fifty-three years, Mr. Bowman’s longevity of service to the institution far surpasses any other person within the organization to date.
Current USSFCU Chairman of the Board Christopher D. Shunk, reflects on Mr. Bowman’s presence within the institution. A longtime colleague and friend, Shunk recalls Bowman’s integrity, focus, and dedication. “He has always been a fighter and an advocate. Bowman stands up for what’s right and always advocates for the ones tasked with getting the job done.”
On May 9, 2019, the United States Senate Federal Credit Union held a ceremony in honor of Mr. Bowman—dedicating their new national headquarters building in his name. The ceremony was held in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Room at the Dirksen Senate Office Building—a very fitting setting to pay homage to the decades of service Mr. Bowman provided while on the Foreign Relations Committee.
On Wednesday, December 4th, 2019 the groundbreaking ceremony was held to commemorate the beginning of the new headquarters facility. The ceremony was a private, invitation-only event, with a little over 30 people in attendance. In addition to the USSFCU board of directors and senior management, representatives from the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, HITT and JLL also attended. President and CEO Tim Anderson started by addressing the group alongside the board on a blustery morning outside of the building. Mr. Anderson spoke of the credit union’s growth and success over the years.
The ceremony then headed inside where USSFCU Board Chair Ileana Garcia addressed the group. She also touched on the growth of the credit union and made a special mention of Bertie Bowman and his service to the credit union over the years. Mrs. Garcia then presented a golden hammer to Bertie to commemorate the event. Mr. Bowman, standing alongside the other USSFCU board members, expressed his great thanks to everyone involved with the building and how honored he was to have the building named after him. He also mentioned his long and storied journey from small-town South Carolina to sweeping the steps of the Capitol and working his way up to becoming the hearing coordinator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The current Board Chair, Chris Shunk, followed Mr. Bowman and laid out the decision to name the new building in Mr. Bowman’s honor. He explained that Bertie was the conscience of the credit union and through all of the growth and expansion; he was a constant voice making sure the credit union was focusing on serving those that needed it most. Mr. Shunk thanked all of those involved with the construction and everyone attending and then opened the floor for statements.
Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President Joe Haggerty congratulated the credit union on the growth they have experienced and on the new building. He then acknowledged longtime Alexandria City Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper, who was also attending. Councilwoman Pepper also congratulated the credit union and thanked them for keeping the credit union in the city of Alexandria.
On Wednesday, September 22, 2021, USSFCU held an invitation only grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the official opening of the Bertie H. Bowman Building. The ribbon cutting was held under atrium of the main entrance with close to 100 attendees. Alexandria City Mayor Justin Wilson along with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President, Joe Haggerty addressed the attendees followed by USSFCU President & CEO, Timothy Anderson and USSFCU Board Chair, Jay Moore.
The attendees headed inside for a Grand Opening reception with the two guest speakers; NCUA board member and former Board Chair the Honorable Rodney Hood and current 2021 NCUA Vice Chair the Honorable Kyle Hauptman. In addition to the in-person speakers, there were also numerous U.S. Senators and Credit Union industry leaders that submitted video message to be played at the ceremony. Most notable of these were the U.S. Senator from Maryland Ben Cardin and former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator from Virginia Tim Kaine.
The night concluded with Mr. Bowman addressing the attendees. He spoke with humility and expressed his gratitude for the honor. He reminisced of his journey from the farmland of South Carolina to Washington, D.C. He expressed his love for the friend and family in attendance and to the Credit Union he had so faithfully served for decades.
Lastly, USSFCU President & CEO Timothy Anderson invited long-time friend of Mr. Bowman, Bonita Bing, to address the group for a special unveiling. Ms. Bing and her colleague George Tolbert of Tolbert & Bing Studios had invited Mr. Bowman to a photoshoot earlier in the year but this would be the first time Mr. Bowman had seen the results of that shoot. Ms. Bing removed the covering to reveal and striking portrait of Mr. Bowman. This portrait is the one you see adjacent to this placard. Many thanks to Bonita Bing and George Tolbert for their incredible work in creating such a work of art.
In 2021, USSFCU also honored Mr. Bowman for his exceptional dedication to the organization by bestowing upon him the status of Emeritus Board Member. This was the first time in the 85-year history of the Credit Union that they had awarded a board member with the status of Emeritus. This would solidify Mr. Bowman’s position with the Credit Union for the rest of his life. This would ensure that Mr. Bowman’s voice would be heard and his guidance would continue regardless of election or leadership changed within the organization.
On October 25, 2023 the U.S. Senate community and extended USSFCU family lost our beloved champion of the people. His life is like one from a storybook or movie but his legacy of sticking up the little guy is what will be remembered most. Mr. Bowman impacted so many lives and all those he touched along the way will continue to carry his legacy.