Local attorney, legislator Mike Bowling dies

Published 1:52 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Mike Bowling

Former state representative Mike Bowling died on Saturday at the age of 64.

He left a large imprint on southeastern Kentucky, as well as on many of the people who reside in the area.

Middlesboro Mayor Rick Nelson spoke about his relationship with Bowling in a phone interview on Monday.

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“Mike was a good friend,” Nelson said. “He was very involved in improving Bell County and Eastern Kentucky as a whole. He was always an encourager. Every time I would have a meeting with him he would always be uplifting and encouraging,” Nelson said. “There have been several times where he’s helped me when I was a state representative to get various things, but he never wanted any credit for it, he said ‘I want you to get the credit for it and I’m glad to help.’ That’s the kind of person that Mike was, he did a lot for the community that most folks don’t even know about. As a friend, I’ll miss him, and as a community leader the whole community will miss him.”

Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock also talked about Bowling’s impact on the area.

“Mike was one of the most consequential persons to ever be elected or be involved in Bell County,” Brock said. “There are so many things he had a hand in that folks just don’t know about. He will be sorely missed, not only as a peer, but as a friend.”

Kentucky State Representative for the 87th District Adam Bowling, Mike Bowling’s son, also took time to say a few things about his father.

“He was one of a kind,” Adam Bowling said. “They really did break the mold when they made him. He was larger than life. He loved life, he loved people, and he took that same attitude into anything he approached, whether it was politics, his law practice, or other civic duties he got involved with like his church, his family and friends, everything.

Mike Bowling was not the first in the family to run for office, according to Adam Bowling.

“My mother (Jamie Shoffner Bowling) was the first politician in our family,” he said. “She ran for the Middlesboro School Board and served on that for 16 years, 12 years as the chairperson. A few years later, dad got in the ring as state representative.”

He explained both his parents emphasized to their children the importance of being involved in their community.

“They loved this town,” Adam Bowling said. “They always said the people here have always been so good to us, it’s our responsibility to give back. That’s just something I’ve grown up with.”

Adam Bowling said he and his brother, Blake, and sister, Ashley, all have become involved in their community due to their parents’ influence.

“My brother was a city councilman for a number of years, and he’s currently the city attorney for the city of Middlesboro,” he said. “My sister no longer lives here, but she’s living in Boston and is very involved in her community as well.”

According to Adam Bowling, his father would have preferred to be remembered for his love of the community.

“I think he would most like to be remembered by how much he loved this area,” Adam Bowling said. “He was a military brat, he went to 16 different schools by the time he was 18, so he never really had roots and didn’t have that lasting community the way other people do. Middlesboro was one of his father’s last stops after he got out of the service. He met my mother here, she was 15 he was 16, he fell in love with her and they both went on to the University of Kentucky, then Dad got his law degree. He served four years in the Army in Ft. Worth, Texas, and when that service was done there was only one place he was going, and that was back to Middlesboro.”

Adam Bowling recalled an incident former Gov. Paul Patton had spoken to him about recently.

“Gov. Patton was a coal man by trade before he got into politics,” Adam Bowling said. “There had been a change in worker’s compensation law in Kentucky and it was really going to effect the coal industry and the businesspeople who ran coal operations. It was going to put a lot of them out of business.”

Adam Bowling explained his father’s law practice handled more workers compensation cases than any other law firm in southeast Kentucky at the time.

“He went and talked to Gov. Patton about the issue, and the governor explained his problem to Dad,” Adam Bowling recalled. “Dad said ‘Governor, you’re absolutely right, we’re going to have to do something to change this.’”

Adam Bowling pointed out his father had to endure a lot of disagreement from his attorney friends, including attorneys in his own office, over this issue.

“If they passed this reform it was going to take away what was their bread and butter at the time,” Adam Bowling explained. “Gov. Patton said, ‘Your father is a true statesman, the fact that he would take money out of his own pocket, take away a major part of his own livelihood, to pass something that was best for the state, I have the utmost respect for him.’ And that’s the way dad was, he would dig into issues and decide what was right or wrong, and once he decided that…he didn’t care if it hurt him or upset a friend, he was always trying to do what was right. I’ll always remember that.”

In addition to serving eight years as Kentucky State Representative for the 87th District, Mike Bowling also served as Middlesboro city attorney, attorney for the Bell County Board of Education, member of the Kentucky Board of Education and chairman of the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Authority. He passed away at the age of 64 on Saturday.