In Memoriam: Phil Bowdren

My first memory of Phil Bowdren is that he came across as just what he was: a dedicated, selfless, giving guy.

My second memory is that he made one tasty Irish stew. That’s maybe how I first got to know him—through the Hibernian Hunger Project’s annual Irish Stew Cook-off, years ago. He took a lot of pride in his ability to dish up a memorable stew.

Of course, there’s so much more than that to say about Philip H. Bowdren, former Philadelphia police officer and well-known throughout the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and the Irish-American community for his great dedication and hard work. Bowdren passed away recently at the age of 66.

We’ll leave the memories of this good man to those who knew him best.

“I got to know him through the AOH,” says Bob Gessler, founder of the Hibernian Hunger Project and president of the Philadelphia Irish Memorial. “He was very active in Division 51 in Fishtown. He had a great drive and hunger for all things Irish. He was a tireless worker. I don’t think people realize all he did. He worked behind the scenes. Whatever you asked him to do, he put his heart into. He provided tireless support for all who asked. We used to tell him, ‘There’s nothing wrong with putting your name on something.’”

Gessler recalls how Bowdren used to go to the supermarket in his neighborhood, sit outside and collect food for veterans. “It was a really great thing.”

More memories:

Photo by Tom Keenan

Tom Keenan, staff photographer, The Irish Edition

I called Phil, Buddha. During the Jeannie Johnston visit, Phil was sitting yoga style and looked like a sitting Buddha to me. Phil did a lot for AOH 51 in the days he was involved. He started our affiliation with the Veterans Multi-service Center (VMSC) and began collections of goods and money outside a supermarket in the neighborhood to support vets and homeless people. It still goes on today. He always was there to help others and never asked for help himself, even though he needed it. He was what we call GOOD PEOPLE.

Jay McCarrie, Charter President, AOH Division 51-Fishtown 

I met Phil through his membership in AOH Division 51-Fishtown. Although not a charter member, Phil was instrumental in the beginning of our division. Phil started serving the division in the dual roles as our Public Relations and Veterans Chairman. Phil put the “Fill” in Fill-a-Cart by starting our semi-annual collections for the homeless veterans at the VMSC. Phil along with Bob Haley started the St Patrick’s Retreat Group at Malvern for AOH brothers from Philadelphia County. Phil served as president of Division 51 as well as secretary of the AOH Philadelphia County Board.

Phil and I also connected through our law enforcement backgrounds, Phil a retired Philadelphia Police Officer and myself an active Sheriff Detective. I will always cherish my friendship with Phil—a hard-working, proud Fishtowner and Hibernian.

Patricia Fleetwood, who works in the Holy Name of Jesus Parish office

He was a big dude, a lovely guy. He certainly was a real instrument in the AOH group here. He was very active in the parish. He was in the guitar group for years. He was one of the singers. He was very much attuned to this church.

Jaclynn Ries, Perimeter Program Manager, The Veterans Multi-Service Center

I worked here for 10 years and Phil was an intake coordinator. I know that if it wasn’t him who directly affiliated us with the AOH, then he played a big part in it. That Fill-a-Cart program completely fills our pantry twice a year.

He was definitely a jokester as well. One time he actually blocked me in an office with a full lateral filing cabinet. It was hilarious.

He was an intake person for our homeless veterans’ drop-in center. He met every veteran who came in the door, made sure everyone completed an intake form and everything. He got them coffee, got them breakfast. He had so much pride serving veterans. That was his passion for a long time. He was very much loved.

Joseph J. Menkevich

I will never forget Phil.

Medal of Honor Recipient Thomas F. Prendergast was interred and forgotten in an unmarked grave. I managed to navigate the red tape (finagled a little bit) to obtain a government-issued military grave marker. It was approved and it arrived at the graveyard.

I did not know Phil or the A.O.H., and I never asked for anything so I was blown away when Phil and the whole A.O.H. Division 51-Fishtown showed up.

By their attendance, they made the ceremony a solemn and honorable event.

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