Welcome to the Archive of The Carrboro Citizen Logo Image

Obituary: Wayne A. Bowers

Wayne Alexander Bowers, 89, died peacefully at his Chapel Hill home on Thursday, Aug. 28, following a period of declining health. Wayne was born on March 1, 1919, in Bilbao, Spain. He spent his childhood in small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, as his minister father moved the family from parish to parish. He graduated from Wadsworth (Ohio) High School in 1934 at age fifteen and from Oberlin College as Phi Beta Kappa in 1938. He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Solid State Physics from Cornell University in 1943 and joined the Theoretical Division of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos in 1944.

He was a Research Associate at MIT in 1946-47 and joined the physics faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1947. He retired from full-time teaching in 1984, but remained active in theoretical physics and continued with part-time teaching for several years thereafter. Wayne taught almost every course in the department, from Introductory Physics and the Physics of Music to the most advanced graduate courses, including laboratory courses. He was a superb teacher and delighted in illuminating his theoretical courses with lecture demonstrations. He advised and supervised graduate students, served as assistant chairman, and was a wise counselor to many departmental and university committees.

While on leave from UNC at various times, he was a visiting scholar at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in 1956, a National Science Foundation Science Faculty Fellow at the University of Cambridge (1963-64), a visiting professor at MIT (1968-69), and again a visiting scholar at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge (1977-78 and 1985). In the post-Sputnik era at MIT, he participated in the creation of an instructive computer-generated film for Solid State Physics.

Wayne did his Ph.D. work on Crystal Lattice Dynamics under Hans Bethe, and he directed several Ph.D. theses in that area at Chapel Hill. He was a member of the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, Sigma Xi, the Federation of American Scientists, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. On the Chapel Hill campus he was very active in the American Association of University Professors and the Elisha Mitchell Society. In recognition of his outstanding teaching, Wayne was awarded the prestigious George B. Pegram Award of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society in 1990 for “Excellence in Teaching in the Southeast.”

Wayne was also prominent in community affairs, particularly in the 1960s, when he played an active role in the racial integration struggles in Chapel Hill. He was treasurer of the Community Church of Chapel Hill for a decade and served on the North Carolina Council on Human Relations.

Wayne was extraordinarily gifted, precocious and quick. Whenever his physics colleagues ran into some difficult problem, they knocked on his door. He usually found the mathematically most elegant solutions in short order. He was a voracious reader and especially fond of English 19th century fiction. In his middle years he could often be seen in the Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street, reading an entire novel while standing in the store. He worked the puzzles in the Sunday New York Times swiftly in ink.

His knowledge of geography was amazing. Wayne stunned students in a College Bowl dry run with his erudition and instant recall of arcane topics in history, geography, literature, music and the South. He had perfect musical pitch, played the piano with passion, especially Bach and Brahms, and when accompanying the annual Christmas carol sing at his house would transpose effortlessly from one key to another to suit the singers.

Wayne is survived by his wife of 64 years, Maryellen Severinghaus Bowers, and by three children: John Severinghaus Bowers of Ithaca, N.Y., Ruth Elizabeth Bowers of Highland Park, N.J. and Wayne Cameron Bowers of Sitka, AK, as well as by eight grandchildren. His daughter Margaret Ellen Barrett died in April 2008.

A memorial gathering will be announced at a later date.

Contributions in Wayne’s memory may be made in lieu of flowers to the American Friends Service Committee or the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Comments are closed.