Ray Bowers

Eastern Market’s “Cheese Man” Departs

Ray Bowers greets Mayor Adrian Fenty at the opening of the temporary Eastern Market. Photo: Andrew Lightman

Ray Bowers, owner of the Bowers Fancy Dairy Products, a five-decade mainstay at the historic Eastern Market, died in his sleep on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at the age of 78. Bowers, known to many at the Eastern Market as “the Cheese Man,” owned and operated the business he inherited from his father, Harris Rockford Bowers, who bought the shop in 1964. Bowers successfully marketed his business by offering to one and all samples of a wide variety of cheeses,virtually ensuring a purchase.

Joseph Raymond Bowers of Falls Church, VA was born January 28, 1934. He was buried in Sharpsburg, WV near the Antietam Battlefield. There is a local service planned at St Peter’s on December 29, 2012 at 10 a.m. Bowers was a long time member of the parish. 

Bowers’ son, Mike, a daily presence at the Market, who worked for and with his father, describes a remarkable man from whom he learned a great deal. Bowers added that his father was a doting grandfather and a “kind man” whose beliefs were incorporated in his favorite word “ inclusive.”

“He was my best friend,” Michael Bowers said of his deceased father, adding with a long hard swallow and pause: “He was the best man at my wedding. I looked to him for the truth. He gave answers to my questions that always made me think. He would tell you the truth and was a real confidant.”

Ray Bowers was among those who were burned out by the fire at the Eastern Market on April 30, 2007. Along with the other merchants he set up his business in the temporary East Hall, returning to the original South Hall location when it resumed operations in August 2008.

Council member Tommy Wells described Bowers as “a special guy. You never knew what to expect of him. He had opinions not commonly held.” Wells added that Bowers often engaged him politically with his strong views on an array of subjects: “He marched to the beat of his own drum.”

Wells recounts a story that sums up the special place that the Eastern Market and Bowers held in the Hill community life. A longtime friend loved Bowers’ cheeses and was particularly fond of an especially strong soft cheese. It became the Gutman cheese at Bowers’ stand when ordered by many his friends who never did learn the cheese’s actual name. Fromager Ray Bowers knew immediately what cheese it was; the only question was how much you wanted.

Bowers was preceded in death by his wife Catherine Janet Knode of Shepherdstown WV. They were married on December 27, 1958. Bowers is survived by his mother, Zelma, and his son Michael Bowers (wife Andrea) and a daughter Kris Bowers Haefer of Memphis, TN (husband Doug) presently residing in Brazil. There are five grandchildren.

Bowers briefly attended Gonzaga HS and graduated from Washington-Lee High School. He received a BS in Economics from Shepherd College in 1961 and then went on to work on an uncompleted Masters in Public School Administration from the University of Virginia.

Bowers had a varied professional career before settling down in 1976 and running the legendary cheese stand. Bowers was an intelligence specialist in the Air Force from 1954-57 stationed in Tripoli, Libya and taught elementary school in both Fairfax and Prince William counties. Bowers also taught and counseled incarcerated youth at the Lorton Youth Center between 1964-66.

Ray Bowers grandson, Ryan, who directed the many regulars at the Market stand to the butcher block paper memorial hastily assembled for signatures while the business was closed to honor the memory of Bowers, described his grandfather as a man who did “what he wanted and when he wanted.”

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