By: Rob Moore
(HELEN) – A capacity crowd that had gathered at the Helen Arts and Heritage Center Wednesday morning to learn about Helen’s transformation to an Alpine Village started out hearing news about the death of one of the three men who guided that change.
Robert Lee “Bob” Fowler Sr., 88, of Gainesville died Monday, Jan. 14.
In 1968, Fowler was one of three Helen businessmen who coordinated the transformation of Helen into an Alpine Village that has become the state’s third most-visited tourist destination.
After serving as institutional sales manager for J.D. Jewell and Company for eight years, Fowler in 1966 joined Orbit Manufacturing Inc. in Helen as vice president of sales.
Despite a distinguished career with that company for nearly 30 years, Fowler was perhaps best known as one of the businessmen who had the vision for modern-day Helen.
“He was one of the original founders,” Helen City Commissioner Jeff Ash told those gathered. Fowler, Jim Wilkins and Pete Hodkinson worked with artist John Kollock to create the current motif for the city.
Fowler also shaped the modern-day Helen City Government.
In 1972, he was elected to the Helen City Council. After a second term on the council, he was instrumental in the rewrite of the Helen City Charter and served two terms as the first mayor under the new form of government.
“What Bob did as a founder, he instilled in all of us not the word politics but the word government, and he taught us – we all taught ourselves – but he put a discipline into our meetings of Robert’s Rules of Order, being prepared, we surrounded ourselves with outside professional people,” Ash said. “If we hadn’t done that, I don’t think that we would have been able stay in front of what was to be future growth in this town.”
In 1986, Fowler was elected president of Orbit and he retired as chairman and CEO in 1991 after 29 years with the company.
He was the first recipient of the Peter Hodkinson Man of the Year award in White County.
“I’d like for you to keep him in your heart, remember him,” Ash told those gathered, tapping a framed photo on the table. “There’s a picture of ol’ Bob right here.”
Despite recent health issues, Fowler continued to influence other people.
“Bob helped us a bunch,” Ash said. “He helped me and a lot of other elected officials over the past 40-something years.”
Outside Alpine Helen, Fowler was elected president of the Gainesville Jaycees in 1960 and 1961. At age 30, he was named Gainesville Jaycees Young Man of the Year and one of five Georgia Chamber’s Outstanding Young Men in Georgia. In 1965, he was selected as one of the Outstanding Young Men in America.
He was a member of the first Leadership Georgia class in 1972.
Fowler was a founding board member of the White County Bank, and also served as President of the Chattahoochee Country Club.