Goodbye, Bill Nowlin

True Southern gentleman left an indelible mark on state representative

While the passage of time can usher in gray hair and the occasional body aches, one of the most cherished gifts presented with each turn of the calendar is a greater appreciation for dear friends and those who have truly impacted your life.
Such is the case in my life with Hamilton resident Bill Nowlin. Most in Marion County know we lost my friend unexpectedly earlier this month. But the impact this Southern gentleman made on me will continue to live well beyond his years... and my tears.
Returning to Marion County in 1991 after accepting a job at the Journal Record, it was my good fortune to welcome Bill into my life. My boss, Les Walters, and Bill had been friends for several years by this point. In short order, I was accepted into this circle of friends. And I assure you, the honor was and continues to be mine.
Time and experience revealed to me what a good-natured and tender-hearted man Bill Nowlin was. There were several common interests we shared, including Alabama football and American history. Certainly, Bill had a bent to include Confederate history, but his passion for history was all rooted in his love and appreciation for the United States.
But more importantly, Bill and I shared a soul-searching passion for Jesus Christ. There was no doubt my friend’s faith was genuine. Early in our friendship, the conversations turned to the church and his interest in my spiritual life. I could see he was genuinely grateful to learn of my faith and my background in church singing. He encouraged me in all aspects of my spiritual life. In essence, he became an unassuming mentor.
My friend would stop by the newspaper office in Hamilton on a regular basis. Bill, Les and I would become involved in conversation on an assortment of topics. At times, Les and I had to be reminded we were on a deadline and the upcoming edition of the newspaper had to be completed. I truly enjoyed my time with my friends. But there were also times when Bill and I would find ourselves in an adjacent room or in the parking lot extending the conversation a few more minutes.
It was in these times, our conversations shifted into a deeper spiritual place. Many times, these talks would end in a prayer--sometimes, I would pray for Bill, but many more times, Bill would lay his hands on my shoulder and pray for me.
Many of you know there is something powerful when a fellow believer calls out your name in prayer. Yes, heaven is always listening when we pray with a pure heart, but what power there is knowing your name is echoing through those heavenly places from the lips of another.
Ending each prayer, Bill and I would embrace and tell the other we loved him. Again, there is something special in the Christian brotherhood. We gain strength and encouragement from one another.
Another benefit of having my friend make his regular office visits was the fact he oftentimes had a little companion by his side, his grandson, Noah. To say Bill was proud would be an understatement. His face beamed with love for this little fella, and rightfully so. In essence, I was given the opportunity to watch Noah grow up and I am so grateful.
In recent years, I have watched this young man mature, both physically and spiritually. I have attended sporting events where Noah has played as well as community theater performances in recent years where his talents have been revealed in an entirely different manner. In time, I developed my own pride in this outstanding young man. His Christian faith continued to develop and I am confident much of this can be attributed to the example lived before him by a loving grandfather.
Within the last several months, Bill introduced the idea of my speaking to his Sunday School class at Hamilton First Baptist Church. Earlier this month, I received a call confirming a specific date in July. As they often managed to do, our conversation involved an assortment of topics before our visit neared an end. But before our goodbyes were exchanged, my friend uttered the last words I would ever hear him speak, “I love you, brother.’’ Little did I know, three days later my friend would be gone.
In subsequent days, his precious daughter extended an invitation to serve as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. With a broken heart, I was honored to accept. I believed the service would be my final opportunity to honor my friend, but I was wrong. This newspaper column is providing such an opportunity, as I am using these words to express my love and appreciation for a man who moved to Marion County from Memphis in 1979.
He planted roots in Hamilton and came to love this community as his own. And this community came to love him as a native son. Bill Nowlin never failed to invest in Hamilton. He never missed an opportunity to express his appreciation for his newfound home and he never missed an opportunity to invest in me. I was the benefactor of our relationship. Bill loved our conversations and, in time, Bill came to love me.
I am forever grateful the Lord allowed our paths to cross. God bless you, my friend, and may heaven be more real to you than you ever imagined. And save me a seat on a small park bench along the path of those streets of gold. We will have some catching up to do when I arrive and a warm embrace to share. And as your last words expressed to me, “I will always love you, brother.’’
(Estes is Alabama State House District 17’s freshman representative from Winfield.)

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