Dan Leslie Bowden’s face was likely the most-kissed in Miami on Saturday night.
A legendary teacher at Ransom Everglades School, Bowden, a bespectacled man with a warm and measured voice, was feted for his 87th birthday and his 60 years of teaching and advising at the Coconut Grove school.
“We share a common thread,” said Jeffrey Miller, former Ransom board chair and Ransom alumnus, class of 1979: “the love and respect for Dan Bowden.”
Bowden arrived in Miami in 1955 to teach English at the then-boys-only Ransom School. He loved poetry (swooning over Emily Dickinson) and plays (Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is one of his favorites.) And just like your favorite English teacher, he was — and still is — a stickler for details, proper dress and proper grammar.
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As for why he stayed so long, Bowden, who grew up poor in Georgia, said the school made him feel safe.
“They started nourishing me from the moment I started,” Bowden said.
Each speaker at the dinner told a story of being similarly nourished, in turn, by their teacher. More than 400 former students, co-workers and friends attended the tribute to Bowden, who greeted nearly all of the guests as they arrived at the Harry H. Anderson Gymnasium at the upper school campus.
“People want to do things for you because you have done so much for them,” said Vicki Carbonnell Williamson ‘88, director of alumni relations.
Even those who couldn’t make it, like Doug Weiser, senior vice president of the Continental Companies, and a former student of Bowden’s, spoke of the impact the teacher has had on them.
“I’m very close to the school so I see Dan from time to time, and it always makes me feel very special,” said Weiser, whose father, the late Sherwood “Woody’’ Weiser, was a former board chair. “It dawned on me recently how many people he must have touched in the same way, and who felt just as special as I do. I don’t feel cheated in that respect, that all of a sudden I was one of thousands. It’s just sweet because in his case it’s genuine for every one of us.”
Bowden retired from teaching in 1999, but continues to serve as an adviser to the head of school.
Near the end of the dinner, Miller announced that he and his family — matriarch Sue and siblings Stuart Miller ‘75 and Leslie Saiontz Miller ‘77 — established the Dan Leslie Bowden Fellowships for the Humanities with a $1 million donation.
Starting in the summer of 2017, up to 10 juniors will be named fellows annually to pursue studies outside of South Florida in the arts and humanities. Upon their return, they will present their findings to the school.
The full endowment will total $5 million, and upon reaching its full funding, the program will subsidize two full-time faculty members as Dan Leslie Bowden chairs.
“It’s only natural we continue to be part of his support system,” said Miller.
Bowden spoke at the end, joking about the speakers’ comments on his long-windedness.
“You will, I’m sure, be thankful that I have not written a speech,” Bowden said.
Instead, Bowden said a brief thank-you, which then became a lesson for all.
“I can always think of things to talk about,” he said.
Instead of Dickinson or Thoreau, Bowden ended with a passage from the novel, “The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold,” by Jeanette Winterson.
“‘Sometimes where you are is enough. It’s not that time stops, or that it hasn’t started. This is time. You are here. This caught moment opening into a lifetime.’ I might add, or closing one.”
Bowden turned 87 on Saturday.