'He lived what he preached': Tallahassee honors the late Bobby Bowden at old Capitol

“He lived what he preached,” one man said.

James Call, Capital Bureau

Despite the ongoing pandemic and the threat of a possible tropical storm, hundreds turned out Friday at Tallahassee's old Capitol to say goodbye to a local legend: The late Florida State University football coach, Bobby Bowden. 

Bowden, who died Sunday at home surrounded by family at age 91, will always be Seminole royalty. But to many in North Florida, he defines the region: Someone with a passion for football and compassion for all he met. 

“He lived what he preached,” said 56-year-old Paul Buchanan, who drove from Live Oak to pay respect. Buchanan, who works for a water management district, said he grew up in Panama City and ran track for the University of South Alabama.

Where he lives is ripe with Gator fans, he added, but he calls himself a “Nole” because of Bowden, whom he met as a freelance photographer. 

“I felt like I wasn’t really anybody, but he would wait after a game until the last person had asked the last question," Buchanan said. "A lot of times that person was me."

NEWS OBITUARY:His name shall endure: Bobby Bowden took FSU from 'nowhereland to splendor' | Gerald Ensley

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A convoy of 11 Florida Highway Patrol squad cars escorted a hearse with Bowden’s body into the Capitol courtyard. Bowden’s wife Ann and the couple’s six children stood silently while an honor guard carried the coffin up flights of stairs to a third-floor viewing area.

Tommy Bowden, the former Clemson coach, broke from the family briefly to exchange a hug with Reginald Dixon, who played for the elder Bowden on the Seminoles’ 1987 team. 

Gov., Mrs. DeSantis escorted Ann Bowden at the memorial

Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis chaperoned Mrs. Bowden as she approached the casket. She placed a hand on it and, surrounded by her children, stood there for two minutes.

Then she greeted the public seated in an olive-green stuffed chair, next to the deep brown casket, which was adorned with a huge bouquet of red roses and the Governor’s Medal of Freedom the coach received earlier this year. 

Bowden is believed to be the first individual to lie in honor in the building constructed in 1845. Former Gov. Reuben Askew was the last elected official to have lain in state in the building, now called the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, in 2014.  

The casket of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, decoded with dozens of red roses, lies in repose on the third floor of Florida's Historic Capitol Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says to lie "in honor" is a distinction states usually reserve for someone who made significant contributions to society. 

“You better believe that is who he is,” Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said. 

Tony, in an attempt to escape the violence of his Philadelphia neighborhood, introduced himself to Bowden; the former running back was a walk-on at the end of the 1999 season.

That led Tony to become “the man I am today,” he said: The chief law enforcement officer of the state’s largest public safety organization. 

“That all started here with that man, Bobby Bowden,” Tony said, after paying respect to the family. “His legacy is what he did with people. He built champions. He built more champions than rings he won.” 

Florida State University President John Thrasher stands with Gov. Ron DeSantis and others while waiting for the arrival of former FSU coach Bobby Bowden's family at Florida's Historic Capitol Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

FSU President John Thrasher was the first member of the public to pay respect to Bowden and the family. He was followed by state CFO Jimmy Patronis, and Orlando state Sen. Linda Stewart.

A steady stream of visitors, nearly 300, had filed into the Historic Capitol by 11 a.m. A second viewing, at Doak Campbell Stadium, was scheduled for later in the day. 

Bowden's funeral service is Saturday at Tallahassee's Tucker Civic Center.

Bobby Bowden funeral information 

  • WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday.
  • WHERE: Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. All seating is general admission and available in the seating bowl and upper deck. A clear bag policy will be in effect.
  • PARKING: Lots open at 8 a.m. at Tucker Center Main Lot, FSU Turnbull Center Parking Deck, State Parking Decks. Parking is free. 

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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