Herbert “Bertie” Bowman, the longest-serving Black congressional staff member, passed away this week at the age of 92. He rose from humble beginnings sweeping the steps of the Capitol as a teenager to overseeing one of the Senate’s most crucial committees.
Bowman’s death occurred on Wednesday, October 25, at a rehabilitation facility in North Bethesda, Maryland, due to complications arising from recent heart surgeries, as confirmed by his stepdaughter, LaUanah King-Cassell, in a statement to The Washington Post.
Born as the fifth of 14 children to sharecroppers in South Carolina, Bowman recounted in his 2008 autobiography, “Step by Step,” how his life changed in 1944 when South Carolina Senator Burnet Maybank, during a visit to Bowman’s hometown, invited residents to visit him in Washington, D.C.
At just 13 years old, Bowman took the senator at his word and left home. Maybank helped him secure a job sweeping the Capitol steps for a meager $2 a week, as detailed in his autobiography.
Over more than six decades in the nation’s capital, Bowman developed a diverse skill set, working as a janitor, a cook, and a shoe-shiner.
He also bore witness to significant periods in U.S. history, including landmark events like the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal.
In the 1960s, Bowman joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a clerk and later became a hearing coordinator. Additionally, he became a volunteer on the credit committee at the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union in 1966 and eventually became a board member and chair.
Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., who currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, paid tribute to Bowman on October 25, remarking on his integrity and unwavering dedication to public service.
Bowman’s influence extended to both sides of the aisle and left a lasting impact on all those who served on the committee.
While working on the Foreign Relations Committee, Bowman had the opportunity to collaborate with President Barack Obama and develop a friendship with Bill Clinton, who once served as a clerk for the committee before his presidential election in 1992.
Clinton even wrote the foreword for Bowman’s autobiography, recognizing unsung heroes like Bowman who work diligently behind the scenes.
Bowman served as a board member of the Federal Credit Union for more than 46 years, including a two-year tenure as chair, making him the longest-serving board member.
In 2019, the credit union honored him by naming its new headquarters after him, and in 2021, he was designated an emeritus board member.
Timothy L. Anderson, the president and CEO of the credit union, described Bowman as an icon on Capitol Hill, the moral compass of the Credit Union, and a steadfast community servant.
Following Bowman’s passing, tributes poured in on social media from those who knew him, including John Kerry, the former Massachusetts senator who currently serves as the special presidential envoy for climate.
Kerry remembered Bowman as the warm-hearted hearing coordinator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a cherished figure on Capitol Hill.