Bowers closes her last case

Photo By Thomas Wilson Elizabethton city attorneys Roger Day (center) and Charlton DeVault honor Ruth Bowers for her service as legal secretary for the attorney's office.

By Thomas Wilson
Ruth Bowers knows a lot about the law to have never attended law school.
"The law is a jealous mistress," said Bowers, who will retire as legal secretary to the city attorney's office at the end of September. "The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, but exceedingly fine.
"If you're not totally dedicated to the legal profession, you won't make it."
City administrators and attorneys expressed their appreciation at the Elizabethton City Council meeting on Thursday night. City Manager Charles Stahl and Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley presented Bowers with a key to the city honoring her service.
Although classified as a city employee for only five years, Bowers has spent more than 43 years as a legal secretary. Her legal career began in 1960 when she went to work for Elizabethton lawyer Dan Laws Jr. Bowers served as legal secretary for the city's attorney, John Walton, from 1982-1998. After Walton won election as General Sessions Court judge, Bowers became a city employee in 1998 after Charlton DeVault was named interim city attorney. She came to work with Roger Day when he was selected as the city's permanent lawyer in 1999.
"In private law, you have a group of clients, the city attorney's client is the city council and the city manager," she said. "The best thing about it is feeling like I've made a contribution to the city."
DeVault, who continues to do legal work for the city, remarked Thursday night that Bowers's legal acumen was such that all she lacked in being a lawyer was a degree in jurisprudence.
"If she had a law degree, every other lawyer practicing would be nervous," said DeVault. "She is unequaled."
He said Bowers worked tirelessly in the city's lawsuit against North American Fibers, Inc. regarding a sewer line easement. The city won a $3.4 million settlement from NAF in Chancery Court last month. "I would have liked to stay around and see that money deposited in the bank," Bowers said.
Her legal education began at an early age. Bowers's father, Ed Hathaway, served on the county court and frequently brought Ruth into his working world before taking daughters to work became fashionable. "I grew up following daddy to the courthouse, literally," she said.
Since becoming a city employee in 1998, Bowers has assisted city administration and attorneys with revamping the city's municipal code and dealing with lawsuits filed against the city regarding the west side annexation. She is currently involved in updating the city's employee personnel manual. The transition from private law to public law narrowed her client list, but hardly lessened the legwork. She has also doggedly pursued citizens owing delinquent real and personal property taxes to the city.
An acknowledged history junkie, Bowers took it on herself to collect and archive several original city documents dating back to 1923. Many written on delicate "onion skin" paper, the archives include the city's 1959 budget -- when revenues topped out at $928,000 -- and a permit granted to a city resident in 1929 allowing him to beg for money to feed his wife and seven children. "That gives you some idea how hard it was in Elizabethton back then," said Bowers.
She and her husband of 47 years, Fred Bowers, raised their family of three daughters -- Debbie Gouge, Betsy Bowers and Roberta Muhn -- in Elizabethton. Fred retired after 44 years as a photographer for Coleman's Studio after beginning his career as a photographer with the Elizabethton Star. Bowers said the couple's five grandchildren -- Jamis, Jerran, Justin, Daniel and Brittany -- will be the fourth generation of her family to graduate from Elizabethton High School. A member of the Elizabethton Choral Club and First Presbyterian Church, Bowers said the couple plan to dote on their grandchildren and grab life by the horns for a change. She also hinted she may be following grandson Jamis to wherever he attends college.
"It will be the first time in our lives we don't have to adhere to anyone else's time," she said. "It's going to be our time now."