Dr. Talmadge “Joe” Bowden had a unique dream for his life.
“I wanted to fly jet airplanes in the United States Air Force during war time,” he said. “I was coming up as Vietnam was heating up. My father was career Air Force, and I’d already been accepted to pilot school when I graduated and commissioned.”
Then Bowden was accepted to medical school and had to make a decision.
He chose medicine, and after many decades of practice, Bowden is giving the Medical College of Georgia a generous donation and future estate gift totaling $1 million to create the Talmadge A. “Joe” Bowden Jr., MD, Distinguished Chair in Surgery.
Bowden’s long history with MCG began when he earned his medical degree in 1966. He interned at University Hospital (now Piedmont) in 1967 and returned to MCG to complete his residency in 1971 at Eugene Talmadge Memorial Hospital (now Augusta University Medical Center).
Bowden might downplay his time at MCG or how he arrived in medical school (his college roommate Leslie Wilkes talked him into it). But he speaks highly of his mentors, colleagues and lessons learned while there.
Dr. Bob Parrish, a former chief of pediatric surgery, was one of them. “He established the department of pediatric surgery all by himself,” Bowden explained. “As a mentor, he was gruff. He had that raw edge, but when it came to those babies, he was 100% on board. He was so committed to the care of those children. And he mentored us by trusting us.”
Bowden and Parrish would later become friends and, oddly enough, the hands that wielded scalpels in the operating room, began utilizing instruments of another kind as bandmates in Code 99, a Dixieland jazz band made up of physicians and other associates of MCG. Bowden would play drums for the band for the next 46 years.
After his residency, Bowden did serve briefly in the Air Force (1971-1973), but not as a pilot. His second choice would have been a war surgeon in the field. Instead, Maj. Bowden was the chief of the Division of General Surgery at the U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
Bowden returned to MCG as a faculty member, serving as a professor of medical ethics, and later became chief of gastrointestinal surgery and surgical endoscopy. During that time, he led the fundraising efforts to establish the Moretz /Mansberger Distinguished Chair in Surgery, a tribute to another of his mentors, the late Dr. William H. Moretz, chair of Surgery from 1955-72 and MCG’s fourth president, and his successor, the late Dr. Arlie Mansberger, MCG professor and chair of Surgery for 18 years. Bowden and several contemporaries also started the Moretz Surgical Society at MCG in honor of “the quintessential gentleman” whom they called “the big knife.”
Just as Moretz and Parrish helped shape Bowden’s medical career, Bowden’s influence as a professor and surgeon touched many lives.
“He was a great person, he was a great teacher, and he was a great surgeon, said Dr. Charles Howell, Chair Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Surgery and Pediatrics at Augusta University. ” “He was instrumental in helping train people who practice all over the state of Georgia and the Southeast.”
At age 60 Bowden felt called into the ministry. After graduating from University of the South’s School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, he was ordained as a priest at Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta, where the Rev. Bowden still serves as an assisting priest for this Episcopal congregation.
Even though Bowden originally wanted to fly fighter jets in the war, he speaks as a man with few regrets.
“The fact that I was here (at MCG) was a rare privilege,” Bowden said. “To this day, I have no idea how I got into medical school, but I appreciated being accepted and being here.”
“I could have been an ace, or I could have been a four-star general,” he ruminated before adding, “I ended up where I was meant to be. It’s been a great, great ride.”
For information on how to support the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, please contact Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement.