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Gentle plant worker took life as it came

Published Aug. 27, 2005

William T. "Bill" Bowers was a good worker.

The kind with a strong work ethic, who showed concern for employees when he heard of layoffs, not just within his own company, but at others.

How are these people going to support their families? he wondered aloud.

He quietly gave people money, just to help.

He was reliable and didn't have to be told what to do. Not the competitive type, more the cooperative kind.

Bowers' approach on work may have developed at a young age. He started working when he was 11 at his family's electric contracting company in Ohio.

At Progress Energy Florida's Crystal River complex, Bowers was a plant operator, and everybody liked him.

So news of the accident that led to his death Friday hit hard.

He had been opening a valve on a high-pressure pump in a coal-burning plant about 8 p.m. Thursday. The valve exploded, workers said.

Bowers, 49, was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital.

His skull was fractured, his brain was bleeding and his right arm was almost severed, according to Bowers' "life partner" of almost six years, Cathleen Foley, 54. She said head trauma from the explosion caused his death.

Both Progress Energy and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the accident.

Foley describes the accident as "freak-type."

"It shouldn't have happened, but it did," she said. "I'm trusting that Progress Energy will do their best to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Foley was just coming inside the Yankeetown house she shared with Bowers Thursday night when she got a call from a Progress Energy human resources employee. She met the employee in Crystal River and he drove her to Tampa General, where Bowers first was treated in the emergency room, then in the ICU.

Bowers' supervisor also was there, Foley said.

Bowers didn't deserve it, he told her. He probably didn't know what hit him, hospital staff said.

After seeing how mini-strokes had affected his father, whose health had brought him to Florida in the mid 1980s, Bowers hoped for a death that wouldn't linger, Foley said.

After he died, Bowers donated both his kidneys.

From the number of phone calls she has received and from talking to other workers, Foley said Bowers' death seems to have shaken and touched many. Grief counselors were brought in for his Progress Energy co-workers, she said.

"It's just hit a lot of us."

Bowers had a nice and quiet way about him, Foley said. Gentle, generous and caring. He liked nature and Native American spirituality.

At home, Bowers was relaxed and laid back. He didn't have to be constantly achieving or on the run.

"He very much took life as it came," Foley said.

She was the hurried one, the one with too much on her plate. Bowers tried to help Foley understand that she didn't have to be busy all the time. Once he said to her, "Just be. It's been what you've been looking for all your life."

The morning of Bowers' death, Foley planned to make invitations for a surprise party for his birthday on Feb. 25 .

They met on Easter Sunday in 1998.

Foley had recently moved down from New York, where she worked 50-hour weeks as a recreational therapist, after making a decision to slow down. She wanted to be in a warm place, where she could wear sandals all the time.

While Foley went to massage school in Gainesville, she stayed with her snowbird parents in Yankeetown. Bowers' older sister, Cherie, was her neighbor. Foley was invited to Easter dinner.

"Bill didn't say anything that day," Foley recalled. But a few days later, the quiet man spoke up. He wanted to be with her. They called each other their soul mates.

The couple had no routine. Bowers was a shift worker and Foley's schedule as a massage therapist varied, too. Some days they spent the whole day together, and others they only had 10 minutes. Some nights she slept alone and some mornings she woke up without him.

As more time passes without him, Foley anticipates Bowers' death is going to hit her. But what she said she feels now is intense sorrow.

"I believe some day down the road I'll understand it," she said. "But for today, this is how it is."

_ Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or