C. Ricky Bowman was posthumously awarded the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award on June 14, 2023, at the Surry County courthouse in Dobson, North Carolina. State Bar Past-President Darrin D. Jordan presented the award, and State Bar Councilor Thomas B. Langan also participated in the presentation.
Mr. Bowman was born August 31, 1956, in Elkin, North Carolina. He graduated from Surry Central High School. He was a strong believer in hard work, education, and seizing opportunities, all of which he credited with rescuing him from poverty. After a stint at Surry Community College, Mr. Bowman began commuting to Wake Forest University for his undergraduate degree in sociology. He worked his way through college and applied to law school at Campbell University. He graduated from Campbell University School of Law in 1984.
Upon passing the bar exam, Mr. Bowman began operating a private law firm until May 1, 1995, when Governor Jim Hunt appointed him to the post of district attorney for Surry and Stokes Counties. On March 31, 2021, he ended the longest active district attorney tenure in the state. Over his time in office, Mr. Bowman never faced a competitive election, having run for re-election unopposed seven times. His achievements in office include working with area judges to establish the administrative traffic court, probation court, plea court, and trial court. Under Mr. Bowman, District 17B adopted open file discovery long before it was mandated.
During his time as elected district attorney, Mr. Bowman tried cases big and small. He called the calendar and answered the phones, and never asked an employee to perform any task he would not undertake himself. His door was always open to lawyers, citizens, law enforcement, and even the occasional criminal defendant.
Within the bar itself, Mr. Bowman was often called upon to mediate disputes among lawyers and other officers of the court. He had a gift for identifying common ground and working from there to soften grudges. He did this during plea negotiations and trial preparations. On Fridays, Mr. Bowman made a habit of visiting nursing homes and hospitals and delivering meals to shut ins.
Mr. Bowman was dedicated to mentoring and encouraging young lawyers. He never turned down an opportunity to speak to schoolchildren or civic groups about the legal system and the prosecutor’s role in it. He encouraged his staff to do the same. When addressing the public, as when orienting new prosecutors, he was sure to educate them that his duty was not merely to seek convictions, but to do justice.
Mr. Bowman belonged to the North Carolina Bar Association and the North Carolina District Attorney’s Association, Copeland Masonic Lodge #390 AF and AM, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Rotary Club of Mount Airy, and was a faithful member of New Home Church of Christ for more than 50 years.
As the district’s chief law enforcement officer, Mr. Bowman was committed to convicting the guilty and protecting the innocent—demonstrating that these duties were not mutually exclusive, but essential to promoting confidence in the rule of law. He did this by adhering scrupulously to the highest ethical standards and by aspiring to ensure equal justice under the law.
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