Dr. David Jack Rowland blinked into a brief sleep Dec. 23 in Jasper, where he lived most of his 98 years. During that nanosecond, he merely moved to a new and infinitely better realm of existence where some really swell people dwell.
Teachers like Socrates were there to greet him. So were warriors like Patton. Dave Rowland was a Renaissance Man, the very definition of teacher/warrior. Let our happiness for him equal our sorrow at losing him.
For those who knew him — most everyone did — it seemed to us that a mighty tree had fallen. Though Dr. Rowland was maybe 5’8” at tiptoe, for decades he stood Redwood tall, with branches and roots that spanned this great country of ours. They will span it always.
His was the epitome of the life well lived. In 1956, he took leadership of Walker Junior College in Jasper and in a few years created it the paradigm on which Alabama’s system of two-year colleges could be based.
He put together a staff of dedicated, able professional educators who helped him open doors to higher education for thousands who would otherwise never had the opportunity. There are so many testimonials to lives changed in infinite manner.
Dr. Rowland was a gifted leader, born to it. Somehow he just knew how. And he did it with poise. He didn’t posture. He didn’t push. Didn't have to. He led by example, assured knowledge, and he commanded respect. In the half century I knew him, he didn't raise his voice in anger. When he spoke, folks listened because he’d shown many times that listening to David Rowland was a wise thing to do.
I am privileged to say that I knew him as well as anyone outside his family circle. I witnessed his abilities. We worked together on many things but two particularly intense projects come to mind that demonstrated the man’s mettle and relentless resolve.
Years ago, he chaired the successful environmental campaign, Clean As A Whistle, that others like us put together for Walker County. Later, he took a lead role when many of us put forth the successful effort to legalize sale of alcohol in Jasper. It was a great controversy, and he didn't shy from it.
We took a pasting from every pulpit in the county. I’d get up every morning to listen to fundamentalists on the radio promise hell for me, David and John Oliver, president of First National Bank of Jasper and everyone else who backed the proposal. We all believed in what we were doing but unlike many of us, David had nothing to gain. He did it because it was the right thing to do and he never budged an inch. He’s in heaven. I wonder how many of those who condemned him he’s run into.
He was always the same man in private as he was in public, which is a rare thing for a public figure. He was fair-minded. He'd listen to opinions opposite his own. He was able, most always, to show in the kindest way the holes in the opinions opposite his own. I know that for fact. Once, after he disassembled what I thought was a solid argument of mine, I said, "That wasn't fair. I didn't know you'd resort to using logic on me."
Once, after I'd used his title, he said, "Skip, just call me Dave." Without thinking (a condition I should be used to by now), I said, "I just have all this great amount of respect for you. But I'll try, Dr. Rowland." So that didn't work out all that well at first.
Of his remarkable attributes, the one I find most remarkable is that he employed no guile of which I am aware. He achieved greatness with soft voice, a small smile and honest, indefatigable determination. He was of slight stature but no one noticed it. He was such a vital man. He carried himself so well, with an innate sense of energy gracefully contained. He was assured. He commanded respect. He stool Redwood tall.
Dr. David Jack Rowland was perhaps the finest person, overall, I've known and I've known and know many fine people.
The Man was a giant.
Skip Tucker is a former Daily Mountain Eagle editor and currently works as news director with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.