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Community servant and former lawman 'Jim' Bowser dead at 76

Fayetteville native was first African American in modern times to run for Cumberland County sheriff.


James “Jim” Bowser, a prominent native son of Fayetteville who broke political ground by becoming the first African American to run for Cumberland County sheriff in modern times died Monday.

He was 76.

A Vietnam veteran, Mr. Bowser served in the Air Force.

“I think he’ll be remembered as a true community servant. He was an activist in the community and a member of First Baptist Church,” community activist Troy Williams said Thursday. “A person who really gave his all for this community, and he loved Fayetteville.”

Mr. Williams, a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator, said he had known Mr. Bowser since 1979.

“He was big time in the Democratic Party,” Mr. Williams said. “He served a long time. He was the precinct chair with the Democratic Party.”

He also served as president of a homeowner's association in the northern Fayetteville community where he lived.

“He came from a political family,” Mr. Williams said, “and he had political connections. He started working with the Sheriff’s Department with Ottis Jones.” 

Mr. Jones served as sheriff from 1973 until his death in 1987. Following his death, Morris Bedsole was appointed to fill the remainder of Mr. Jones’ term. Mr. Bowser was promoted to major under Mr. Bedsole, the second in command under the Cumberland County sheriff.

"He worked in the Sheriff's Department a long time, and he was known for mentoring young people who came into the Sheriff's Office," said Glenn Adams, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. "He was very quiet. He walked very confidently. He wasn't flamboyant or anything. He knew law enforcement, and he had words of wisdom for you if you wanted to hear it."

Mr. Adams said he had known Mr. Bowser for at least 30 years.

"It goes way back," he said.

Mr. Bedsole remained sheriff until 1994.

That same year, Mr. Bowser ran for sheriff against Earl “Moose” Butler, a well-known high school and college football star and a district supervisor with the N.C. Department of Probation and Parole.

“He really broke political ground and ran for sheriff when Morris Bedsole chose not to run anymore,” Mr. Williams said. “He ran against Moose in 1994, the first time Moose won.”

Mr. Williams recalled that the election was no blowout. “I believe it was close enough that he called for a runoff," he added.

Mr. Bowser lost the election in the runoff, Mr. Williams and Mr. Adams said.

He would never run for public office again.

“He was an excellent person. I’ve known him for years. Very talented,” said Jeannette Council, a member of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. 

Mrs. Council said Mr. Bowser loved to bake - cakes, especially.

“He kind of grew up with community service,” she said. 

Mr. Bowser’s father, the late Bill Bowser, was a legendary radio newsman in Fayetteville. Bill Bowser could be heard on WFLB, including the program “3-B Time,” after that local radio station first signed on the air in 1948.

After his law enforcement career, Mr. Jim Bowser worked at Westover High School, where he taught criminal justice, and also sold real estate.

“He worked with my husband as a realtor. I absolutely adored him as an individual," Mrs. Council said. "He would do anything to help a person.”

A viewing is scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Colvin Funeral Home Chapel, 2010 Murchison Road.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

James "Jim' Bowser, Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, sheriff's candidate