James Roy Rowland, a native of Wrightsville, Georgia, was a medical doctor who became a U. S. Congressman who was best known to his friends and constituents as “J. Roy.”
I enjoyed intermittent conversations with him over the years and was emotionally comforted by a couple of visits with him in recent years that made me keenly aware of the importance of the fiber in a person who chooses politics as a profession. He first was a medical doctor after which came a venture into politics.
Any who knew him, easily concluded that his motivation was to serve. As a doctor, he made patients’ lives better. He tried to do the same as a congressman. A Democrat, evolving from a past in which the Democratic party held overwhelming sway in the state of Georgia, a favorite President was George H. W. Bush, the first of the Bushes to occupy the White House.
In a conversation with him over lunch one day in Dublin, where he had practiced medicine for 28 years, J. Roy said that President Bush was a good person who appreciated traditional American values.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, J. Roy gloried in the success of the institution from the research of exalted scientists to the coaches who made the chapel bell ring on Saturday afternoons and evenings. A high moment of my experiences with him over the years, came a couple of years ago when his longtime staffer, Bill Stembridge, and I arranged a tour of the new Payne Indoor Center for the former congressman.
The congressman, his son, Jim, and Stembridge came for a tour, which I proudly hosted. J. Roy had become an admirer of Coach Kirby Smart and wanted to meet him. The tour also included lunch at the Georgia Center where the food is better than advertised, the ambiance always stimulating and the signature dessert—strawberry ice cream pie—has no equal.
A man of enduring modesty, J. Roy lived to be 96. One of his good health habits was to avoid sugar in his diet as much as possible. “Sugar,” he famously preached, “is poison.” However, I talked him into indulging in a very small slice of strawberry ice cream pie on his visit. The arm twisting was appreciated when he finished the dessert. It was, he smiled, the first dessert he had consumed in years.
One of the reasons he succumbed to the dessert was that it was something special. Anything that brought high marks for the University of Georgia and his home state was something he always appreciated.
On a visit with him in Dublin one spring day a few years ago, he took pleasure in showing friends around his adopted hometown, the new businesses which were enhancing growth and the economy in Laurens County and a new restaurant which he took pleasure in patronizing.
At his home which he enjoyed with his wife, Luella, as they raised their three children, he took visitors into his office which included a few photos of his political career—nothing vain, but pride in serving his country which included a Bronze Star from World War II.
He gave me a bookmark with the great seal of the U. S. of A which I will always treasure. It now takes on a new meaning. It will cause me to remember his career and his legacy as a good man in an arena where men, with checkered and unethical resumes, often become lionized.
While serving 12 years in the Congress of the United States, puts him in rare company, it was the man himself who gets the highest of marks for service. If you care about your fellow man, if you want honesty and integrity in government, if you function with a fiduciary concept when dealing with taxpayers’ money, if you put service above self—those are the positives that make one a Great American.
My friend J. Roy Rowland was a Great American.