Saying good-bye to a dear friend
Monday, March 13, 2017 9:00 am
By Chris Villines
AAC Executive Director
For the third time in the last six years we mourn the untimely passing of an AAC associate. It feels a bit awkward not using the word “employee” there because even though Wes Fowler had retired from the AAC and later rejoined us as a consultant, he was as big a part of this office as many who walk in the doors each day.
The first day of February, like many other days during a legislative session, was spent planning and going over committee assignments. Wes, like always, was up to the task and ready to press county issues at the Capitol. It was clear early on that this session would keep Wes busy with a tire bill, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality concerns and road funding. It was a challenge I think he relished.
Wes also was ready to jump into more county clerk issues this session, with a desire to educate wayward legislators on the ins and outs of elections — and a pragmatic ability to explain why things work the way they do. Many of you have had the opportunity to work alongside him at the Capitol, and all have walked away in awe of his ability to communicate our issues as counties. Little did we know that the next day we’d be picking up his flag and pushing on without him.
People in county government with his abilities are few and far between — and unfortunately dwindling. First elected as the Madison County Clerk in 1989, Wes learned the job quickly … so quickly that he decided he ought to learn the rest of the jobs around the courthouse. This desire for knowledge, coupled with an ability to understand computers, catapulted Wes into the courthouse “Swiss army knife” role — and eventually into the Madison County judge’s office in 1998.
During his time as a clerk he was instrumental in developing motor-voter laws and early voting. He was actually invited to the House floor to give testimony to the full House at one point as a clerk, an honor and sign of respect not bestowed on many others.
I first met Wes in the early 2000s. He was heavily involved in the county judges’ association at that point, and he served on the AAC board of directors. He instantly earned my respect. We worked together through the years either on the AAC board or the AAC Legislative Committee, roles he took seriously and worked hard at.
So in 2010 when I became director at the AAC, I called Wes. I knew he would bring the perfect balance of experience and knowledge to our office and could help out with our judges and clerks. Little did I know he would quickly become one of my best friends. I have learned over time to value people who don’t always agree with me. None of us have the market cornered on being right all the time. I especially value those who speak truth into my life. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” Wes was that sincere friend, and today I am a better man because of those wounds.
I learned new phrases from Wes that I still use today. I believe my all-time favorite sentence from Wes was, “I reckon we got a crapload of rain last night in Huntsville.” Or maybe it was the word “You-uns” when he was addressing two or more people.
Another thing I can tell you is that Wes could fix anything. I asked him early in his tenure at AAC if he wouldn’t mind overseeing contractors to remodel the ACME Brick building, an AAC-owned building across Victory Street from our building. It had been rented out intermittently through the years, and I thought his oversight could give us some usable rental property with consistent income. Well, apparently Wes doesn’t oversee contractors; he just jumped in and did it himself. In two to three months we had a building that was very marketable and much improved. To this day it has stayed occupied and rented because of his work.
I learned through the years that he had an incredible ability in construction. He built the library in Huntsville, as well as a number of houses in northwest Arkansas. And what he built, he built well. I worked on projects at home and leaned on his expertise. His advice was always sound.
What is most surprising about his early departure is that Wes was in fine health. Owning Oakridge Golf Course in Huntsville kept Wes in great shape. What I can tell you is that if you ever desire a life of leisure, do not own a golf course. He acted as head greenskeeper, mowing when the sun was out, eradicating varmints when the sun went down, handling the pro shop all the while not turning much profit. Wes never lamented the finances, though. He wanted the golf course for the citizens of Madison County to enjoy.
As for counties, many of you have been represented well by Wes Fowler through the years, though you may not know it. Whether it was sitting on the Highway Funding Blue Ribbon Committee, the Good Roads Council, the History and Heritage Preservation Board, the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District Board and pro-bono interim director, the AAC board of directors or the AAC Legislative Committee, just to name a few, Wes represented you and your counties well in this state.
We often think of a Renaissance man in cultural terms, maybe even with a highbrow connotation, but when you look at the definition, a Renaissance man refers to a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Wes was definitely a Renaissance man when it came to county and state government. He understood every office and the interaction between them, a skill many of our county and state officials admired.
When Wes passed away on February 1, condolences poured into our office from the people who knew Wes as a county ambassador. But Wes was well known throughout Arkansas. Countless others I have met knew Wes as a library builder, county clerk, county judge, golf course owner, husband, dad, pawpaw, friend or just plain old nice guy.
To Wes’ wife Rose, to his daughters Melissa, Michelle, Lori, to his son Leon, and to his 6 grandchildren — thank you all for sharing Wes with our state. As a diplomat for the counties of Arkansas, and as my true friend, I can tell you he lived life to the fullest and represented you and Madison County well.
We will persevere and fight the fight with one fewer soul beside us, but we will be stronger within because of the impact Wes had on us all.
Until we meet again, my friend.