The Rev. Leroy Bowman, a prominent Baptist preacher and local civil rights leader for several decades, died early Sunday at his home in Annapolis of an apparent heart attack as he was typing the sermon he planned to give that morning. He was 94.
Mr. Bowman, who became the pastor of First Baptist Church in Annapolis during World War II and stayed there the rest of his life, spoke from the pulpit with such moral force and authority that his influence reached beyond church circles, longtime friends said yesterday.
"Reverend was such a lover of people, his church family and the community," said Elizamae Robinson, a parishioner who knew him for years. "He was instrumental to the community in many ways for 60-some years."
Born in the Tidewater area of Virginia, he spent some of his youth in Washington and studied at Washington Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1936, he married Julia Elizabeth Coates of Leesburg, Va. She died in 1990.
He was briefly a junior pastor at Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington before his transfer to Annapolis in 1943.
Even in the beginning of his career, Mr. Bowman's baritone voice was so resonant that when he first was heard on the radio in the post-war 1940s, WANN-AM station owner Morris H. Blum had to tell him to lower the volume.
"He never forgot that," recalled Mr. Blum. "We never passed each other that we didn't reminisce. He was a great man."
While serving as a full-time employee at the U.S. Treasury for 30 years, Mr. Bowman commuted to Washington even while he served as a pastor in Annapolis, as was customary for many ministers at that time.
As the civil rights movement gathered momentum in the 1960s, Mr. Bowman became known as a voice for social justice, leading local voter registration drives and championing the cause of low-income housing. He served as a commissioner and for a time as acting executive director of the Annapolis housing authority.
Mr. Bowman's name carried weight with elected officials and ordinary people alike, said Carl O. Snowden, intergovernmental relations officer for Anne Arundel County and a former Annapolis alderman.
"Once he believed in a righteous cause, he would give his all to it," said Mr. Snowden. "He transcended the church in his quest for social justice."
Mr. Bowman was on the front lines of persuading state lawmakers to make the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. a holiday, Mr. Snowden said. More recently, he crossed his own Republican party lines to support Ellen O. Moyer's candidacy for mayor.
"He loved the city. He came here from Washington, but he became an Annapolitan," said his niece, Marcia Bowman Wooden of Washington. "I know he'll be greatly missed. He was the patriarch of the family for gatherings, and he always played Santa at Christmastime."
In addition to Ms. Wooden, Mr. Bowman is survived by another niece, Thomasine McCall of Accokeek.
From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, a viewing will be held at First Baptist Church, 31 W. Washington St., Annapolis, with a three-hour service starting at 6 p.m. Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and state House Speaker Michael E. Busch are among those scheduled to speak.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the church with a wake from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Free parking for those attending the funeral will be provided at the Whitmore parking garage at Clay and Washington streets, county officials said.
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