New chamber official puts painful past aside


Deborah Bowie, vice president of chamber development for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, shown is at the Commerce Building at 300 E. University Ave. on Monday.

Erica Brough/The Sun
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 11:36 p.m.

Deborah Bowie had to wrestle with the demons of her sister's murder and the seemingly endless trials that consumed so much of her life before she could move back to Florida.

Facts

Deborah Bowie

Age: 43
Occupation: Vice president of chamber development, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce
Personal: Married, mother of four, including a college freshman and 4-year-old triplets
Pets: 15-year-old cat named Sissy
Dream partner for lunch: Sister, Sharon, who died in 1994.
Last book read: “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz
Favorite tv show: “Doc McStuffins” — “My triplets love it.”
Favorite listening: Smooth jazz
Hobby: Singing
Education: Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, bachelor of arts, communications; John F. Kennedy School, Harvard University, professional development in collaborative governance

Bowie, who grew up in Miami, started as vice president of chamber development for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce three weeks ago after serving as senior director of public policy and communications for the Albany, Ga., Chamber of Commerce for the past two years.

Her sister, Sharon Anderson, was one of three people killed execution-style during a home invasion in Miramar in 1994.

For nearly 20 years, murder trials and retrials of the two accused killers were the only reasons Bowie would return to Florida, which she otherwise avoided “because it was just painful,” she said.

Time and priorities would change that. Bowie is the mother of 4-year-old triplets, one of whom is autistic. After her first interview at the Gainesville chamber, she learned that the community has ample resources to help families with autistic children.

“My goal had been to pick a community that had a longer continuum of care so I wouldn't have to be like a military family moving every three or four years,” she said. “I'm excited because Gainesville has that.”

During her first week in Gainesville, MSNBC interviewed her at the Hippodrome Theatre for an hour-long follow-up on her sister's case since one of the defendants was acquitted last year.

“I can't step one foot on Florida soil and there it is in your face,” she said. “I felt different this time doing the interview. I just don't feel consumed by it anymore, certainly not consumed enough that I'm going to allow that to hamper a great opportunity.”

As vice president of chamber development, Bowie is in charge of overseeing the daily operations of the Gainesville chamber and its 20-plus employees under President and CEO Tim Giuliani. It is her third chamber, following stints in Albany, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., where she was vice president of community development.

Her chamber career follows careers in journalism and public service. She was a television news reporter for an ABC affiliate in Birmingham, but said she had to get out after 10 years in journalism.

“I was really tired of the ‘it-bleeds-it-leads' type stories, and I had personally been through a very tragic situation, and it just made me increasingly uncomfortable to ask people questions after something horrific happens.”

She also worked as public information officer for the Birmingham City Council before she was recruited to work for the Birmingham chamber.

When friend and former newscaster Larry Langford was elected mayor, she went to work for him as chief of staff. Early in his term, he was indicted on federal bribery charges for actions during his time on the Jefferson County Commission.

“The moment that happens to him, all of that responsibility is shifted off to me. I'm not the mayor, but I still have to run city government and quickly get up to speed, so it was a 24/7 job,” Bowie said.

She was later fired by the interim mayor. Langford was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

During her time in city hall, Bowie had spontaneous triplets, meaning she was not taking fertility medicine but was trying for one child.

She said she “literally had a meltdown” when faced with the prospect of raising three babies, in addition to being a dedicated career woman. In the beginning, she said she had a lot of help from her older daughter and her mother “and now we're just in a routine.”

“As the kids get older and as you get into a routine with that, it's just whatever your new normal is, so for me it's normal,” she said of having triplets.

Bowie is one of three vice presidents hired by the chamber this year, including Kamal Lathan over public policy and Susan Davenport over economic development.

She said she is inspired by how positive people she meets in the community are about living in Gainesville.

“I think we as chamber executives, we're paid to get out there and promote the community no matter how dysfunctional it might really be, so I feel like I've kind of morphed into those obnoxious chamber executives at the national convention where I can really stand up and say I love the place that I live in, so that will be a new experience for me.”

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