"We can't just sit back and expect other people to do all the work. Good things happen to you and others when you follow the rule of serving others in the community, church, work and family."
Through a lifetime of service to the community, Gary Bowie has improved the lives of others by promoting and celebrating sport and wellness for all, leading the initiative to end homelessness in Lethbridge and encouraging others to follow his example of community involvement.
Gary Bowie was born in Claresholm, Alberta in 1937. An early interest in athletics inspired him to become a coach. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education at Brigham Young University in Utah and a Master of Science degree in physical education, health and recreation at Washington State University. In 1970, he obtained his PhD from the University of Utah in health, physical education and recreation.
After earning his master’s degree in 1962, Gary returned to Alberta to teach physical education and to coach at Lethbridge Junior College. When the University of Lethbridge was founded in 1967, Gary became one of the original faculty members. During his 30-year career at the university, Gary taught an array of courses, including physical education, standard sports activity classes and the history of sport. He also taught more in-depth courses, such as the humanities of physical activity and the importance of the development of management competencies in sport and physical education. Throughout his career, Gary has always taken pride in watching his students develop into thoughtful citizens through the experience of belonging to a team.
Gary was an early builder of both the Lethbridge Junior College Kodiaks and the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, serving for many years as athletic director for both institutions. Through his work at the college, Gary became a founding member of the Western Inter-College Conference (now the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) in 1964. Gary coached the men’s college team to victory at the WICC Basketball Championships in 1967. He helped build the Pronghorns athletic program over the next three decades, seeing the Pronghorns men’s hockey team win the first CIAU National Championship in 1994. In the intervening years, there were many league championships in judo, men’s curling and both men’s and women’s basketball. As important as the wins were, Gary’s philosophy of having heart and taking pride in the effort was foremost.
Community building has always been a crucial aspect of sport for Gary and he has carried that conviction into the larger community. He has coached innumerable community basketball, baseball and football teams, as well as managed numerous single sport and multi-sport events including the Alberta Winter Games. He continues to serve on an extraordinary number of community sport and recreational committees, associations and boards, such as the Alberta Sport Development Centre Southwest and the National Coaching Certification Program.
As a member of the 1975 Lethbridge Canada Winter Games Board of Directors, Gary helped to convince the chefs de mission from other provinces that Lethbridge, with the support of the surrounding communities, could successfully host the games. Gary served as Director of the Sports Committee and directed the competitions. Hosting the games brought a sense of pride to Lethbridge, and new facilities such as the Sportsplex (now Enmax Centre).
Gary continued to serve in subsequent bidding efforts, including one that secured the 1996 Alberta Winter Games. As chair of the board of directors for the games, Gary helped create a legacy with the Lethbridge Sport Bid Committee, an organization charged with bringing major sporting events to the city. He also chaired the Lethbridge Sport Council for many years and continues to serve as a member of its board.
Gary has also been instrumental in ensuring that the history of sport in Lethbridge and in Alberta is documented and preserved for future generations. He strongly believes that sport is integral to our culture and that knowing its history helps us reflect on our past, to improve our future.
Outside of sport, Gary’s community building efforts are no less impressive. He has been a role model of service and compassion, providing encouragement and leadership to those who wish to give back to others. Organizations benefitting from his service include the Lethbridge Public School Board, City of Lethbridge Social Goals Task Force, the 100th Anniversary Committee for the City of Lethbridge, the Steering Committee for a new health and wellness facility at the University of Lethbridge, the City of Lethbridge Social Services Advisory Committee, the Lethbridge Healthy Communities Steering Committee, the City of Lethbridge Ad Hoc Committee on the Hard to Serve, the Lethbridge Community & Social Development Committee of Council, the Alberta Secretariat For Action on Homelessness, the Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives Sport Legacy in Southern Alberta, the Lethbridge Steering Committee for the Syrian Refugee Humanitarian Crisis, the Lethbridge Downtown Social Issues and, most recently, the Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use.
Gary’s most prominent contribution to community is his continuing role as Chair of the Social Housing in Action (SHIA) Committee. Through his experience in the mid-1990s on the Lethbridge Committee on the Hard to Serve, Gary, along with community partners, had come to learn that homelessness was the stubborn result of a range of other challenges faced by marginalized members of the community. At the time of his retirement from the University of Lethbridge, Gary agreed to put that knowledge to work and take on the leadership of SHIA.
With the support of all levels of government, SHIA took on the task of building a new Lethbridge Emergency Shelter & Resource Centre and a separate Emergency Youth Shelter. Though proud of these accomplishments, the committee realized that emergency shelters are only a temporary solution to homelessness. Lethbridge needed to prevent and end homelessness, not simply manage it. Along with six other cities in Alberta, Lethbridge embraced the Housing First approach to homelessness. Housing First believes housing is a basic human right. Instead of trying to address personal difficulties before providing housing, people are given a home first, a place to belong and a secure base from which to tackle their personal difficulties.
Such a major paradigm shift required committed leadership, community support, education and a focused effort to implement an evidence-based and strategic community plan called “Bringing Lethbridge Home.” The approach has required increased stock of affordable housing, supportive housing options, community and regional engagement and collaborative partnerships, committed agencies, research, prevention strategies and continuous improvement of various programs. Thanks to Gary’s committed leadership to implement Housing First, homelessness in Lethbridge has been reduced by over 67%.
Gary’s concern for community grows out of his upbringing. He has always been deeply involved in the Mormon Church, having completed a mission in the eastern United States as a young man and having served five years as a bishop. He has always sought balance in life and finds that his spirituality has been a major contributor to his desire to serve. He continues to be involved regularly in church work and special activities at the Cardston Alberta Temple.
Gary’s extensive career as a coach and sports educator has given him the distinction of being inducted into the Lethbridge Sport Hall of Fame; the Alberta Sport Hall of Fame & Museum; the Pronghorn Sports Hall of Fame and being named Sports Person of the Year for Lethbridge. Other honours for his athletic contributions include the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference & Lethbridge Kodiak Founders Award; the Shawn Ward Sport Champion Award for lifetime achievement; and the R. Tait McKenzie Award of Honour from Physical and Health Education (PHE) Canada. PHE Canada also made Gary a fellow and awarded him two Certificates of Merit. He was awarded the Certificate of Recognition by the Canadian Inter-University Athletic Union for contributions to the growth & development of university sports.
His community work has earned him the honour of being named Lethbridge Citizen of the Year and receiving the Key to the City. Gary has received the Alberta Centennial Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. The University of Lethbridge recognized Gary’s efforts to combat homelessness and his contributions to the sports sector with an Honorary Degree.
Gary continues to be relentless in his commitment and passion for building a community that is healthy, viable and inclusive of all people. This includes being the leadership face and voice to prevent and end homelessness in Lethbridge.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence