Bill Cowan

It all started March 7, 1945.  I was born in Williams Cove about 5 miles SE of Winchester, TN.  My parents were Chauncey and Aline (Money) Cowan.  I am the youngest of five siblings.

The house I was born in had four rooms, a fair sized house in the neighborhood.  There was no electricity or running water.  It certainly had no air conditioning or other comforts.  The air conditioning was enjoyed by moving out to the porch or dragging a chair out to the giant Red Oak tree in the front yard.  I do recall sweeping the ground underneath the tree to remove debris.  There was very little grass.  However it made for comfortable sitting on hot days.  

 In the winter, we enjoyed the warmth given by two stoves.  One was located in the front room (living room) and the other in the kitchen which was also used to cook on.  It felt good in cold weather but imagine how it felt in August.  At night there were at least two kids in each bed.  Being the youngest, I got the middle.  

Light was enjoyed by Kerosene lamps.  Each day the glass globes had to be cleaned from the soot accumulated from the night before.  This task fell to the three older sisters.  I still remember their complaints as it was impossible to clean them without getting the soot on their clothes.  It didn’t bother me much since I was two young to be entrusted with this delicate task. 

Bathing usually happened once a week in the kitchen or out on the back porch in a galvanized wash tub.  The bathroom was an outhouse located about seventy-five feet from the back porch.

This all began to change in the early fifties when rural electrification came to Williams Cove.   I can remember seeing the linemen building the power lines.  We got electric lights shortly afterward.  This was really moving uptown.  After I had started to school, we had a telephone installed.  It was an eight party line and was constantly in use.  Often one would have to ask for the line to make a call.  I do remember the number was 6015 and we answered three short rings.  

My schooling started at Centennial School.  It was a two room school and I think I was related to about everybody there.  There were two teachers and maybe forty students.  One teacher taught grades 1-4 and the other taught grades 5-8.  Each room was heated by a stove.  When I was in the fourth grade my mother was the principal which meant that I and my older brother got to school early.  The County School Board paid each one of us five dollars a month to build a fire each morning.  That was my first job.   I was rich!


My life changed drastically about three weeks into my fifth grade.  The board of Education decided there weren’t enough children to justify keeping Centennial School open.  My Mother decided that I should go to Clark Memorial in Winchester.  This school had three-four hundred students.  This was more people in one place than I had ever seen.  I was terrified.  Although I begged my Father to not make me go back to school he insisted.  Fortunately there was a teacher that put her arm around my shoulders that first day and took me to her class.  I soon got used to being in a big school.

Going to school in town brought on more independence.  Occasionally I would stay in town after school to get a haircut or visit the dentist.  My Aunt worked for a Judge in town and after the errand I would go to her office to ride home with her.  She worked for a giant of a man.  His name was Judge Joe Roy Hickerson.  I thought he was God.  Upon arriving at the office my aunt would instruct me to sit in her office, get my lessons (homework) and “don’t go bothering Judge.”  But I knew that he would soon call for me to come to his office.  There was a huge bay window in his office that reached out over the sidewalk.  I would sit on his garbage can and enjoy the best perch in Winchester.  It commanded the best view of the Square.  He would quiz me about how much I knew.  Usually He would suggest that we walk across the square to the drug store for a Coca Cola.  It made me feel pretty important to walk across the square with the Judge.  He spoke to everyone.  

Other than lessons from my Father, this was my first lessons on becoming a good citizen.  It was during one of these walks to the drug store that Judge taught me the value of a good Handshake.  His words still ring in my ear, “Son, always let them know they have a hold of somebody.”  My education began right there.  

When I was in the eighth grade I wanted to buy a 4H calf.  My Dad instructed me to walk to town after school and see Mr. Travis Hitt who was the President of the Farmer’s National Bank.  I remember the day clearly as I asked Mr. Hitt to borrow $200 to buy the calf.  As with Judge, Mr. Hitt’s words still ring clear as he said, “Son, you know you are going to have to pay this money back.”  My dad could have easily met me there to talk to Mr. Hitt but he chose to send me there alone.  My education continued!  This time it was a lesson on business and building my integrity.  Reputation, character and integrity were foremost in my Dad’s life and appeared to be his most important lessons to teach me.  I’m glad he did.  

My Father was a farmer and I always had chores to do each day which usually consisted of feeding the animals, getting in firewood or working in the garden.    On days I was not in school I worked in the fields with my brother.  When I was twelve my Dad gave me a pig.  He told me I could sell the pig at the proper time and that would be my compensation for my helping on the farm.  He did this in lieu of an allowance.  My education continued.  

His advice was to invest the money from the sale of the pig into something else.  He promised to furnish the feed and I made sure that my pig got well fed.   This was more education on making a good investment of your time and money. 

Later on there was a small five acre field located on the farm and Dad allowed my brother and me to grow a crop of crimson clover there each year.  My Dad and Uncle’s cash crop was crimson clover and it became ours too.  This was another way he allowed us to earn money rather than him giving it to us.  My education continued.  This time it was the value of honest hard work.  When my brother left home I got the whole field.  I was rolling in money!

It was about that time cancer claimed the life of my mother.  I never had felt so alone.  The rest of my teenage years were fairly dark.

I joined the Tennessee National Guard while I was in High School and left for training at Fort Knox, KY three days after graduation.  Prior to arriving at Ft. Knox, I had only been out of Tennessee once before.  That was a trip to Huntsville, AL.  It was also in KY that I ran into another person by the name of Cowan.  This was significant since this was the first time I saw a Cowan that I was not kin to.  My universe was expanding.  From there I went to Ft. Sill, OK for artillery training.

My brother and I tried College for a while.  Each semester, I would borrow tuition and book money from Mr. Hitt.  I didn’t do to well.  One day I told my brother that I was tired of living on Beanie Weenies and Corn Flakes and I was going to get a job.  I bought myself a car and began a thirty year career with at that time Southern Bell Telephone.  That was 1965.

1965 proved to be a good year.  It was in the spring of that year that I saw a gorgeous girl get out of a blue Pontiac Tempest convertible and walk up the Court House steps.  She had long blonde hair and was about the prettiest thing I had seen in Winchester.  I was sure that she was definitely out of my league but fate allowed me to run into her later.  I was pretty timid and too afraid to approach any idea about a date but a phone call from my friend Glen Grant encouraged me to ask Sharon Sears for a date.  My life was looking up!

Exactly one year later, I married that girl.  She introduced me to Jesus Christ.  That was the most valuable thing that has been shared with me.  Together we raised two fine sons.  Both became Marines.  They became and remain my pride and joy.  It only got better when Grandkids came.

When I was Twenty-one, Wayne “Duck” Williams invited me to join the Franklin County Jaycees.  My education Continued.  I learned the meaning of community involvement and the importance of being a volunteer.  While there, I also learned public speaking and leadership.   The Jaycees helped me develop personal skills which have proven to be valuable to me.

In 1989 I was introduced to public service.  I was appointed to the Winchester City Council. While there I served two terms.  Later, I served on numerous boards and commissions.  My education continued.  This time I was taught the humility of public trust and the awesome responsibility of community stewardship.  I learned that earning public trust brings more opportunities to serve.  It’s all about being a good neighbor.

Throughout my life I have adopted some principles.  These have become the basis for my name.  I have attempted to pass these along to others over the years.

Jesus Christ is essential.  Without Him nothing matters.  It’s my duty to share the value of Jesus.

Character is important.  Other people’s opinion helps you succeed.  You never know when you will need somebody.  And you will

Integrity helps you sleep at night.  Live your life so that it is possible to be satisfied with yourself.

Don’t let up.   Once you have momentum, it’s hard to regain it once it’s lost. 

Be courteous.  My Dad told me that being courteous cost you nothing. There is no excuse to not be courteous.

Do the Right Thing for The Right Reason.  You may question whether it’s the right decision but there is never a question as to the reason.

Look for a good team to be a part of.  Every team has a heavy hitter.  It doesn’t have to be you. Even the Left fielder gets to ride the team bus.  

Half of Something is better than Twice of Nothing.  Be content with what you have.  Don’t worry about what you want.  That’s hard to do.

Contribute something.  It’s the only way to make your community a better place to live. 

Encourage others.  You never know how close to quitting they may be.

Pay your debts.  You never know when you may need a loan. 

Be kind to others.  Give a hand to those less fortunate.  You may need a hand someday.

A smile is the lubrication for our society.  Keep one on your face, its contagious.

Say Thank You often.      


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