'My whole life revolved around him': Ann Bowden reflects on life with and without Bobby

Jim Henry
Tallahassee Democrat

While Ann Bowden continues to mourn the death of husband, Bobby Bowden, she is uplifted by their journey together and the good times they shared.

Ann also appreciates the support from the community, pointing to the impassioned public service at the Tucker Civic Center that honored the legendary Florida State football coach’s legacy.

The 2 ½-hour event ended with a performance from the FSU Marching Chiefs.

“I expected to see him throw a cap into the audience,” Ann said of Bowden’s tradition of tossing his FSU hat into the north end zone stands at Doak Campbell Stadium after home games.

ONE-OF-A-KIND:Bobby Bowden was a coach who will never be replicated

“Bobby loved that FSU band so much. I think that ending told a lot about him. I thought the whole program was really nice.”

Bowden passed away at his Killearn Estates home Aug. 8 from pancreatic cancer. He was 91.

Members of the 1993 National Championship team, including Bobby Bowden and his wife Ann Bowden, were honored at the 2013 Homecoming game. The Extra Point Club is celebrating it's 40th Anniversary Aug. 9.

Services for the veteran coach were held over four days earlier this month in Tallahassee and his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

Bowden was laid to rest in Trussville, Alabama, 17 miles northeast from his birthplace in Birmingham, on Monday Aug. 16.

Bowden posted a 316-97-4 record with two national titles (1993 and 1999) in 34 years at FSU. He had one losing season – 5-6 during his first year at the school in 1976 – and was forced into retirement following a 7-6 record in 2009.

In one of her first interviews since Bobby's passing, Ann, who has returned to her Killearn Estates home, told the Tallahassee Democrat it will take time to adjust to life without her husband. In a strong but at times wavering, tearful voice, she also credits her family and support system for providing strength and focusing on fond memories.

Bowden and Ann were married 72 years. Bowden was 19, Ann 16 when they married at the home of the Justice of the Peace in Rising Fawn, Georgia. They lived in the same Killearn Estates home they moved into when Bowden was hired by FSU from West Virginia 45 years ago.

“My whole life revolved around him … but I am OK,” Ann said.

“I want him back and I know he can’t. I don’t want to get used to not having him. It’s going to take time for the edge to wear off. … I will always have good, strong memories.

"And so many good things to think about.”

Married to a saint

Bowden was a devout Baptist and strong in his faith. Ann says she’s also relying on her faith, too, even chuckling when asked what it was like to be married to a saint. Bowden was often called “Saint Bobby” for his strong Christian faith and friendly, folksy manner. His endearing charm also had a self-deprecating quality.

“He was very normal,” Ann said with an upbeat tone.

“That’s what made our marriage so great. We married so young, probably too young. But we had a faith that taught us what to expect and settle for in life. I still don’t understand some of it.

"But (God) knew He had plans for Bobby. I think He chose me to be his partner. And I think Bobby followed His plans all of his life. Still, when it comes right down to it though, it’s difficult."

The longtime coach’s wife is also hopeful FSU enjoys a winning season under second-year coach Mike Norvell. The Seminoles open Sunday at home against No. 7 Notre Dame. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ABC. 

Bowden built FSU into a national power, a blueprint that has been difficult to duplicate. The Seminoles have suffered three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the early 1970s. They won the program's third national title eight years ago under Jimbo Fisher. 

“We really enjoyed watching games here at the house and Bobby was very curious to see how they were going to do,” Ann said.

“He always felt coach (Norvell) was the right person. He seems like a fine person with a nice family. We will have to wait and see the results. But I do wish him and Florida State good luck; everyone would like to see FSU winning big again."

Bowden disclosed in July in a release to the Democrat that he was diagnosed with a terminal medical condition. It was later revealed by his son, Terry, that Bowden was fighting pancreatic cancer.

The four days of services that celebrated Bowden's life were "not sad in the least," said son, Steve Bowden. "My wish is people would have come (to services) happy and would have left happy. That's exactly what he'd want. Dad lived his life that way and he lived it without regrets. He lived a life worth dying for.

"That would be my epitaph for him."

The Bowdens, 'a great family' the coach leaves behind

Bobby Bowden is survived by his wife, Ann, and six children, two of whom became football coaches in Tommy and Terry. Terry is the first-year coach at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The family rallied around Ann and Bobby during Bowden's final weeks at his home. 

"I am not bragging on us, but we have a great family," Ann said.

"They are not going to let me weep too long. They are telling me to quit weeping and remember all the good parts. That's what I am looking and wanting to do." 

Reach Jim Henry at