One word came immediately to the lips of University of Central Arkansas supporters upon reflection of the life and career of Fletcher Lowry, who died Sunday after a long illness.
“He came here from the University of the Ozarks with (coach) Frank Koon and he remained extremely loyal through retirement,” said Bill Johnson, a longtime broadcaster and development associate at the university.
Lowry served 33 years at UCA, coaching baseball, football and basketball. He served as chairman of the Health and Physical Education Department for 17 years. He was a member of the University of Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame, the UCA Sports Hall of Fame and his family was recently honored with a service award by the Purple Circle at the Bear Nation Celeberation. The lobby of UCA’s HYPER building was named in his honor in 2004.
“He was a legend,” said Natalie Shock, UCA’s assistant athletic director for compliance who was inducted into the UCA Sports Hall of Honor the same year as Lowry (who was chairman of the physical education department when she was a basketball star for the Sugar Bears. “I know when he was chair of kiniesiology, he was loved by all of us. He was loved at UCA, in Conway, by everybody. He was one of those guys you aways wanted to be around. He had great insight and was really funny. He could tell great stories.”
After retirement and even when he had to be aided by cane or a walker, he was a regular at all UCA athletic games, Bearbacker luncheons and special events.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church.
He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the dedication of UCA’s reconstructed baseball facility, Bear Stadium, in 2009.
When he entered a field slowly with the aid of a walker, a friends suggested he just get a few feet in front of the catcher.
“No, I’m going to the mound,” he said. He then got on the mound, stepped away from the walker, cocked the ball behind his ear, rummaged and went through several gyrations for the correct motion and tossed an underhanded throw that bounced into the catcher’s mitt a few feet to the left of the plate.
And he flashed that typical Fletcher Lowry smile.
Even with a disability, he was comfortable on the field. As UCA baseball coach, he guided the Bears to 200 victories and six titles in the old Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference in 14 years.
“He’s one of three coaches at UCA who formed kind of a triumvirate along with Frank Koon and Raymond Bright, who really got things going here,” said Bobby Tiner, a former football and baseball star who played baseball for Lowry.
“When he started coaching baseball here, he learned on the fly, but he was a dandy,” said Tiner. “His work ethic was what made him a great coach. When he started here, he’d get in the batter’s box and couldn’t hit a whole lot of baseballs. After two practices, he didn’t miss any. He studied the game and worked hard at it.”
And many UCA fans will never forget his sense of humor.
“When I think of Fletcher, I remember his loyalty to the UCA program through the years and that he was a true gentleman,” said Susan Hoggard, a longtime UCA suppporter and a regular at Lowry’s table at the weekly Bearbackers luncheons. “He had a soft side with a sly sense of humor. Sometimes, you really had to pay attention because that humor might slide right past you when he told his stories.”
One other thing about loyalty.
Fletcher was married to Jo Nell Lowrey for 62 years.