Richard “Dick” Bowman wasn’t afraid to make a big impression, whether by lowering an automobile into a courtroom on a crane or wearing a pink pirate shirt to his law office.
Bowman, who grew up on an Iowa turkey farm and became an internationally renowned trial attorney, died Sept. 7 after a fall at his Shorewood home. He was 75.
“He was a force of nature — he was larger than life,” said his wife, Terri, a paralegal who worked with him on cases for nearly 30 years. “He was exciting, dynamic. We spoke the same language.”
Bowman grew up in Mount Vernon, Iowa, attending school in a building so primitive that it later had to be upgraded before it could be used as a hog barn. He graduated from Cornell College, playing trumpet in a dance band to help pay for school, and joined the Minneapolis law firm of Gray Plant Mooty after graduating from law school at the University of Minnesota.
Still wet behind the ears, the young attorney was selected as part of the legal team defending General Motors in a lawsuit involving the Corvair, the sporty compact car pilloried by Ralph Nader in his book “Unsafe At Any Speed.”
Bowman had a cutaway Corvair lowered by crane into the courthouse, through windows removed for the stunt, and used it to explain the engineering and design that went into the car. He won the case.
That launched Bowman on a career as one of the nation’s premier trial attorneys specializing in defending the automobile industry. Bowman handled cases for Honda, Toyota and Ford, among many others.
Renowned for his preparation, his moving and theatrical courtroom style and his ability to take witnesses apart in cross-examination, Bowman also was a generous and thoughtful mentor to the young attorneys he worked with.
“A whole generation of trial lawyers learned from Dick Bowman,” said Paul Cereghini, chairman of the Minneapolis-based Bowman and Brooke, which Bowman co-founded in 1985. “There was so much Dick did in the courtroom that I’ve never seen anybody do with the skill he demonstrated, before or since. When he brought younger lawyers to trial with him, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do better than them — but he gave them those opportunities, because he knew that’s how they learned.”
Rick Morgan, another firm partner, met Bowman when he interviewed for a job in 1995. Morgan walked into Bowman’s office and found him wearing “a bright pink, puffy pirate shirt,” he recalled with a laugh.
“He was a visionary,” Morgan said of Bowman. “He had more energy, more enthusiasm, more passion for excellence than anyone I’ve ever known.”
He took up dancing and soon was entering competitions, Terri Bowman said. “We took three months of lessons and he said, ‘We’ve got to compete if we’re going to do this,’ ” she said. “He was a very competitive person and he loved to do things well. He played football, and he danced like he played football. But he loved it.”
One anecdote sums up Bowman’s personality, Cereghini said. When he was elected president of the tony Lafayette Club on Lake Minnetonka, one of his first acts was to convert the president’s prime parking spot into parking for the employee of the month.
“He really did have a larger-than-life personality and a big heart,” Cereghini said. “He projected that he would always be here. And it’s hard to believe he’s not here.”
In addition to his wife, Bowman is survived by sons Robert and Lance Wheelock; daughters Kimberly and Lori Hatton; a brother, Bob; sisters Mary Seidler and Rosalie Gallagher; and a granddaughter. A memorial will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Lafayette Club, 2800 Northview Road, Minnetonka Beach.