November 9, 2023 at 11:46 a.m.
Updated November 11, 2023 at 1:30 a.m.

Remembering a Lincolnton Icon

WAYNE HOWARD | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

My friend David Lowe and I talked occasionally on the phone; both he and I have been in declining health for several years and while we talked about getting together for another afternoon cup of coffee and reminiscing, it never happened.

I understand that a local author did some interviews with David that may at some point be a part of a book of LIncolnton history.  David and I often remarked that someday not too far down the road, we'd both pass...and a lot of Lincolnton history would pass with us.

When I worked at the local radio station, until I hired Larry Seagle to take over the job of news director, I did the local news.  In those days in the 1970s, I quite often spent afternoons in David's office at City Hall, catching up on what was happening and sharing bits and pieces of local history.

You can read about his many accomplishments in the obituary in that section of the Lincoln Herald; but I'd like to share a little more about my friend.

Lincolnton Mayor Ed Hatley didn't serve in that capacity while David was employed by the City.  Ed & David were next door neighbors, so when we asked him for a comment on David's passing, it was about their friendship that he spoke:

"When I think about David Lowe, it is hard for me to separate my friendship from the public life that most people know and associate with him. Cindy and I were lucky to have been one of Kaye and David's best friends. Our friendship goes back longer than we want to admit. We had many social gatherings and celebrations in the Lowes' basement. I would listen as David, Larry Turner, Hal Parker, Hugh Snipes, and Joe Pohill would re-live their memories of Lincolnton from their childhood to present day. Most of the time, I didn't have a clue of what they were talking about. David knew the history of every building, commercial and residential, that were in and around Lincolnton. I learned about every nook and cranny for the last eighty to ninety years. I soon realized that this knowledge was what was David's life...Lincolnton. He lived and breathed Lincolnton every minute of his life.

"David's contributions as city manager are well documented, but his commitment to our town is what made him the perfect man for Lincolnton and Lincolnton the perfect place for David. We will all miss David Lowe. Lincolnton has lost its biggest supporter."

Like Ed, former City Councilman Marty Eaddy was also involved with the schools during several of the years David served as City Manager:

"I have been a friend and colleague of David Lowe for 50 years.  He was a leader who was a true visionary and innovator.

"As Lincolnton’s City Manager, David was respected statewide for his common sense approach to growth and willingness to try innovative approaches to city management.   David had a unique ability to sense what was important for our community long before others could understand the long term Implications of certain of his priorities.  From the dogged pursuit of the Timken Company to the establishment of the Lincolnton – Lincoln County Regional Airport, David saw what could be rather than settling for the status quo.  As I see the current efforts to expand the airport, recruit jets for property tax purposes and create an airport based industrial park, I can remember the constant criticisms of government supporting a “private flying club.” David always knew this investment would pay off for our community.  Multiple corporate clients at the industrial park were attracted by the airport and these current supportive efforts further validate David’s sense of how to be prepared for the future.  I remember when the airport manager was injured in a plane crash, David took over the operations of the airport for several months with no compensation.   His commitment to our community, his ability to anticipate future needs and his creative approach to problem solving made him a key founder of the success of the community we know today."

David's association with the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Airport is well known.  He served for years as the chairman of the Airport Authority.  His effort to make the airport a reality is well documented.  A personal story about the airport sheds more light on its importance:  Local leaders had gone to Charlotte to pick up leaders of the Timken Company when they were considering locating a plant here.  

The mayor (Carroll Heavner at the time, I think), David, Jim Warren--a former County Commission chairman and then heading up the Economic Development efforts, one of the Timkens, and Governor Jim Hunt were riding in the limousine.  On its way to Lincolnton, the Timken rep said, "if you can make the runway (and quoted a length), we'll build our plant here."  Hunt put his hand on the man's knee and said, "Consider it done."  That exchange resulted in Lincoln County's largest industry choosing to locate at Iron Station.

David shared with me two stories about the progress of the civil rights movement in Lincolnton.  

On a summer afternoon, he was working at his desk on the first floor of the old City Hall, then located on the corner where First Federal Savings Bank now stands.  Mayor W.M. "Buster" Lentz came in and went to his office on the second floor.  "I've got some people coming," he told David.  Soon, some of Lincolnton's most prominent figures--bankers, attorneys, etc. came in and said they had a meeting planned with the mayor.  David sent them upstairs.  Also arriving were several prominent black leaders.  

Several minutes later, they all came downstairs and Mayor Lentz told David, "join us."  They got into cars and drove to the Courtsquare.  They entered City Lunch and sat at the counter--one black, then one white, then another black and another white...and the mayor yelled to Ernest Dellinger who was in the kitchen, "We'll all have a hotdog and a Coke, Ern!"  Dellinger's mouth dropped open--seeing them sitting at the counter.  They ate their hotdogs and the mayor paid the bill.  Then they left--and City Lunch had officially been integrated.

From there, they went down Main Street to the Century Theater.  The mayor bought tickets for everyone and they entered the main auditorium and sat together.  [In those days, the theater had two balconies--one for whites and other other for blacks.  Blacks normally entered by a separate door which led up stairs to their balcony.]  They watched several minutes of the movie, then went back to City Hall.  "Buster" Lentz had announced in a special way that segregation by race was no longer acceptable in Lincolnton.

On a different occasion, David said a woman whose father had passed came to City Hall and said she wanted him buried at Hollybrook Cemetery.  No black person had ever been buried there.  David was just an assistant then; the city clerk was out of town on a vacation with Police Chief Arnold Tarr.  David was unable to reach the mayor.  He had to make a decision, and he approved the request.  He later told the mayor, "I tried to get  you but couldn't, so I had to decide.  You can fire me for it if you don't approve."  Mayor Lentz replied, "You made the right decision.  I would have fired you if you had done otherwise."

David confided that it was likely his fault that the clock City Councilman Roby Jetton worked so hard to get restored (which now sits on the east side of the Courtsquare) got knocked down from its original location on the corner at what was then First National Bank (now the County Tax Office).  

In 1972, there was a problem with drivers trying to enter the Courtsquare from Main Street not yielding the right of way to traffic already on the square.  David suggested the islands that were placed on the east and west sides where Main Street intersects with the Courtsquare.  The NCDOT agreed.  Shortly after they were put in place, a tractor-trailer trying to turn from the Courtsquare onto E. Main Street knocked down the clock from the bank.  

I know it's hard to believe now--but we used to have multiple snows in Lincolnton every winter.  David was responsible for getting electric heat beneath the sidewalks in the central business district to keep the sidewalks cleared.  

David and I shared many other little known tidbits of Lincolnton history.  I have missed our afternoon coffee sessions for years; and now I will miss our occasional phone chats.  

Some years after he left the job as Lincolnton City Manager, the City held a "David Lowe Day" celebration to honor him for his service.  It was a much deserved honor.  

His funeral service will be held 2 PM Saturday (Nov. 11th) at First United Methodist Church Lincolnton.  Burial will follow in Hollybrook Cemetery with military graveside rites.  Visitation will be from 1:00 until 1:45 prior to the service at the church. Memorials may be made to First United Church Lincolnton, 201 E. Main Street, Lincolnton NC 28092.

Over the years, I have enjoyed knowing many great Lincolntonians.  Some were successful in business; others made contributions to our town in a variety of ways.  David served as a catalyst for progress.  His time with us on this earth ran out; but we will continue to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  


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