Mary Ruth Davis Bowman, known to generations of Durangoans as a flamboyant, outspoken, and effective health educator, community activist, coach, and sportswoman, passed away on Feb 19, 2020, aged 93. Her husband, Dr. Frank O. Bowman, Jr., died in 2015. She is survived by three sons, Frank O. Bowman III, Herbert D. Bowman, and Robert C. Bowman, their wives, Robin Bowman, Michelle Der Ohanesian, Dina Esposito, and eight grandchildren, Frank IV, Mary, Sarah, Christina, Mariah, Robert, Jessica, and Abigail.
Mary Ruth was born Nov. 14, 1927, in the Panama Canal Zone. In her teens, the family moved to Robbins, North Carolina. At age 16, during World War II, she moved to New York City to enroll as a cadet nurse at the Brooklyn Hospital School of Nursing, receiving her RN in 1946. She returned to North Carolina, worked as a public health nurse, and in 1953 obtained a B.S. in Public Health Nursing at the Univ. of N. Carolina. At Chapel Hill, she met (fittingly, on a tennis court) Frank, a geology PhD student. They married in 1953.
The couple moved to Durango in 1959. Frank founded the Ft. Lewis College geology department. Mary Ruth helped found Durango's Head Start program. Later, she taught licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and became Director of Health Services and Health Education for Durango 9-R School District. For two decades, Durango youth learned about reproductive health, and tobacco, alcohol and drug use, from her entertaining classroom lectures and her path-breaking district-wide health curriculum for grades 5, 8, and 10.
Mary Ruth was a gifted athlete, natural coach, and leader in transforming Durango's sports and recreational scene. She helped establish the high school tennis program (which she then coached), taught tennis for the city recreation department, and assisted coaching the summer swim program. In 1973, Mary Ruth and Dr. Craig Edgerton convinced Durango H.S. to start a girls' swim team, which she then coached.
Mary Ruth not only coached and cajoled. She played. She was for years acknowledged as Durango's best female tennis player. A 1988 Herald article noted she was still playing tennis - and was "the local grand old lady of the sport." In 1977, Mary Ruth and husband Frank won both the women's and men's Hillcrest Golf Club Championships. She once batted .900 for her women's softball team ... for the season.
Mary Ruth was passionate about women's sports. In her eighties, she wrote a book, "Those Darlin' Demons: A Century of Girls Athletics in Southwest Colorado and the Effect of Title IX," and donated sale proceeds to the Durango H.S. athletic program.
Mary Ruth was among the first Durango women to run for office, in 1963 for school board and in 1967 for city council. She lost both races, but was quoted by the Herald emphasizing that the organizations "should have women members. I think it is important for them to have the widest possible representation."
Mary Ruth was a member of the League of Women Voters for over 50 years, serving as its President and as chairwoman of the League committee that developed plans for Fanto and Schneider parks. She was a member of the Colorado Child Health Council, the La Plata County Public Education Committee, and the first female member of the vestry of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. She advocated tirelessly for Durango's low-income families and sought improvements in Durango's public housing, educational, athletics and recreation infrastructure, including Durango Recreation Center, Senior Center, and Durango Public Library.
She remained colorful, informed, and committed into her tenth decade. When she ventured out in one of the more than 200 hats that became her signature, she invariably met generations of Durangoans who told her how she impacted their lives.
Memorial service: 10 am, Sat, March 14, 2020, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Dgo, 419 San Juan Drive, Durango. Commemorative contributions: Unitarian Fellowship or Mary Ruth Bowman Swimming Scholarship, c/o Durango Education Foundation, 201 East 12th St, Dgo, CO 81301.
Published in The Durango Herald on Feb. 26, 2020.