by Senior Editor Danny Wade
With the 85th annual West Tennessee Strawberry Festival less than three months away, festival officials are hard at work making sure they have all their ducks in a row. One of the duties of the festival president is to name an honoree.
Last week, Strawberry Festival President Shane Lynch and General Chairman Ann Short proudly announced this year’s honoree, Judy Bowers. Bowers has been involved in many aspects of the festival over the years. She has assisted with smaller floats and helped on floats for some of the royalties. She worked on costumes for children in the parades—two of her favorites were the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.
However, she is perhaps known best for leading the Governor’s Luncheon. This is one of the main reasons President Lynch selected Bowers to be honoree.
“I was looking for someone who contributes to the festival,” Lynch said of the process of selecting an honoree. “She’s been over the Governor’s Luncheon for years. She loves the arts, which is true to my heart. She will represent the festival well.”
Lynch said he talked it over with his wife, Libby, and with General Chairman Short. Both thought Bowers would be a wonderful honoree. Both Bowers and Libby have a connection with the arts, serving on the Arts Commission. That relationship over the years was also a factor in choosing an honoree.
Lynch said it is a funny story of how he asked Bowers to be his honoree.
“I was speaking about the Strawberry Festival at the Book Club meeting,” Lynch recalled. “I was asked, ‘who is the honoree?’ I said I can’t say—I haven’t asked yet.”
Lynch then walked over to Bowers, kneeled down beside her and whispered to her, “Would you like to be festival honoree?”
“Well, my first thought was, are you sure?” Bowers said with a chuckle. “I was very excited.”
Those who know Bowers, know she loves horses, the theater, singing and politics—not necessarily in that order. It was her love for politics that led her to chairing the Governor’s Luncheon Committee. For 18 years, Bowers was over the luncheon when there was a Republican governor in office. Her counterpart, Dwight Hawks, led the Governor’s Luncheons when a Democrat was governor.
“Gov. Winfield Dunn, in the early 70s, was governor for my first luncheon. He was a good friend,” Bowers recollected. “I followed Dwight (that year) and he followed me (when the next governor was elected).”
Bowers said most years the Governor’s Luncheons were held at the National Guard Armory, but her first year when Gov. Winfield was here, the luncheon was held at Crenshaw’s Barn. She said it was so beautiful that year.
When asked which governor Bowers liked most, she replied, “I don’t know Bill Lee well, but I do like him. I’d say Bill Haslam was my favorite. He was always very courteous and nice. He wasn’t one that looked for attention. Of course, I like Winfield a lot. I’ve known him many years.”
Bowers said some of her most memorable times during Strawberry Festivals were riding horses in the parades. She remembered once when her son, Clay, was young and he rode in a red, white and blue buggy, while she rode horseback. Bowers remembered a police officer who always assisted with the horses on parade day and how wonderful he was, ready to help however needed.
“My first interest in horses,” Bowers continued, “my dad was a lawyer in Nashville. He said, ‘Every little girl deserves horse.’ I’ll never forget, he put a pony in the back of our station wagon and we brought it home.”
Some of her more recent festival favorite memories are of course the Governor’s Luncheon, but she also loves seeing friends and eating concession foods on Main St. This year especially, Bowers is looking forward to Wednesday evening on Main St. listening to Bandstand Revue, featuring Emily McGill. McGill and Bowers’ grandson, Fort Jones, have been dating for a while now. Bowers said McGill is so talented and has big things in store for her career in music.
Before Bowers was onboard as festival honoree, she was a tad bit reluctant. She had gone through a rough couple of years, losing her husband, Jack Bowers, and more recently, her son, Ted Murray Jones. But the more she thought about being honoree, the more liked the idea.
“I was flattered,” Bowers said of being asked to be honoree. “I had a bad year losing Ted. This was something good and I thought, I need something good.”
Seeing her face light up when she talks about festivals past and looking forward to this year’s 85th West Tennessee Strawberry Festival—this will be a wonderful year, full of new favorite memories to be made.