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As athletic director, he built the school's first teams and many facilities, such as the Sun Dome.

Forty-four years ago, Richard "Dick" Bowers arrived at the University of South Florida to teach physical education at the fledgling Tampa campus.

But those who knew Mr. Bowers, who died Thursday at age 77, say that what he accomplished between his 1963 arrival and 2003 retirement shaped the very fabric of the university.

As athletics director from 1966 to 1983, he helped establish the school's basketball program, he introduced soccer as the school's first sport and oversaw construction of USF's baseball field, golf course and the Sun Dome.

"He's as fine a man as I've ever met," said Eddie Cardieri, USF's baseball coach from 1986 to 2006. He was "a tremendous ambassador'' for USF, he said.

Born in Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Bowers played basketball at the University of Tennessee, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees. He met his wife, Madge, at King College in Bristol, Tenn. And he received his doctorate at Vanderbilt University.

In 1963, he came to Tampa from Connecticut, where both Bowers had been teaching. Madge Bowers said her husband loved all sports, especially golf, basketball and baseball.

In their 48 years of marriage, she said, her husband remained the consummate "southern gentleman," her "white knight."

"He was probably the best guy I ever knew," she said.

Former USF president Betty Castor said Mr. Bowers artfully and quietly cultivated university athletics at a time when some feared that athletics might overshadow the school's academic focus. "He had a tough hand that was dealt to him and he played it very well," Castor said.

In 1976, Mr. Bowers hired Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts as USF's baseball coach, and Roberts stayed in that role for a decade, until his retirement.

Lee Rose, the USF men's basketball coach from 1980-86, knew Mr. Bowers when they helped create the Sun Belt Conference in 1976. Mr. Bowers recruited Rose in 1980, the year he led Purdue to the Final Four.

"I remember he said, 'There are probably three or four things that will come to mind as to why you might not take this job,' and then he pulled out a yellow note pad," Rose said. "He said, 'I've got 50 reasons here why you should take the job. Do we need to go over all of these?'"

Known for his winning smile and artful fundraising skills, Mr. Bowers later became the director of development for the Museum of Science and Industry.

He was also a retired U.S. Army captain and a former Fulbright lecturer in Burma. He served 18 years as president of the Gold Shield Foundation, which raises money for families of fallen police and firefighters.

"He was just good at rattling the tin cup," said golfing buddy and Gold Shield executive director Joe Voskerician, who called him "an unsung hero."

Even after retiring, Mr. Bowers remained a fixture at USF.

Just Saturday, USF lobbyist Kathy Betancourt recalled, Mr. Bowers had been cutting up with her before a Bulls basketball team. "Everybody's uncle and father,'' she said, he was a mentor to generations.

Madge Bowers said her husband died after complaining he wasn't feeling well, and doctors said he suffered an aneurism in his Temple Terrace home.

Despite all the credit heaped on him Thursday, Madge Bowers said her husband's most memorable saying was one of humility: "You can do a lot of good in this world, if you don't care who gets the credit."

Besides his wife, Mr. Bowers is survived by his son, Rick, a USF graduate, a daughter, Delisa, and two grandchildren ages 8 and 11.

Visitation will be Sunday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Terrace Oaks Chapel, 12690 N 56th St. in Temple Terrace. Services are Monday at 11 a.m. at Temple Terrace United Methodist Church, 5030 E. Busch Blvd.