LAURINBURG — Though described at his memorial service as an adept enforcer of the law, Robert Bryant Fowler, better known as “R.B.,” is equally remembered as a man of wit and humor and kindness to all he encountered.
More than 150 people attended Monday’s service in commemoration of the life of the World War II veteran and former Laurinburg Police Department assistant chief, whose 69-year marriage to the former Ruby Mae Johnson — who predeceased him — was as much a demonstration of his character as any bullet point on a resume.
The two met before the war, when Ruby was in nursing school and a relative arranged a blind date.
“He had a date with her every afternoon at three o’clock; you could set your watch by it,” the Rev. Linda Nelson recalled of Fowler’s visits to his wife when her health required more intensive care. “So often nurses, CNAs, and staff would just find some reason to have to come by because everyone wanted to share in the delight of their relationship.”
The Fowlers are survived by two children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. R.B., who spent his retirement busy with hobbies such as woodworking and vintage clock repair, died on Friday at the age of 90.
A native of Mullins, S.C., Fowler spent 21 years on the Laurinburg police force after his time in the Army Air Corps. Billy Perkins, who as a new officer was trained by Fowler, remembered him both as a good officer and as a “jolly fellow.”
“RB could be many people,” Perkins said. “If something got rough, he could be rough. He could change just like the weather — most policemen can do that because they’ve actually got to live two lives. I don’t know anybody that would say an ugly word about him. He was a great guy.”
“He got to know folks in town,” Nelson said. “He told me one time about a fellow that kind of consistently needed some cooling-off time, and he would just ask that gentleman to come with him and somehow the person did. He had that trust and it was amazing; he seemed to just have that way.”
Fowler’s ingrained habit of fitting a solid power nap in to his schedule began in his police days, when he split his 30-minute lunch shift between eating and sleeping to recharge for the rest of the day’s work.
After his retirement from his next vocation as a maintenance worker with Scotland County Schools, the trend continued.
Longtime friend Billy Coble, who ate breakfast with Fowler every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since 1990 as a member of the same Bojangles breakfast group, recalled that Fowler would frequently leave the meeting early enough to fit in a morning nap as a prelude to his afternoon siesta.
At those meetings, Fowler’s history as a police officer and as a part of history in World War II were not uncommon topics of conversation.
“He would wear a big old World War II belt buckle and he would talk about ‘the big one’ and he would walk in and I would say ‘R.B., that was the big one, wasn’t it?’” Coble said. “There was another guy who used to come in, his last name was Paul, and he used to say that if it hadn’t been for me and Paul we’d never have won that war. He said we marched across Africa and Europe to win that war, and those guys did.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.