Bill Stowe, the silver-haired, highly educated, articulate character whose career included a high-profile runs as Des Moines public works director and as chief of the local water utility, made sure we got one more message and a laugh or two, even after he died.

Stowe, who died Sunday, wrote his own obituary and made his own funeral arrangements. He also chose friend and colleague Graham Gillette to give the eulogy, which is bound to be entertaining.

Hang on to your seats. The motorcycle-loving Stowe is taking us on one more ride. 

For example, he ordered that the back of his funeral program contain the lyrics to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern rock classic “Free Bird”: “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on, now, ‘cause there's too many places I've got to see.”

At another point in the song is this line: “And this bird you cannot change.”

The service is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday at St. Anthony Catholic Church, with a public open house (no program) at the Des Moines Water Works offices from 4 to 7 p.m. 

Stowe, 60, succumbed to an aggressive form of cancer Sunday. He had resigned as CEO of Des Moines Water Works April 2, a couple of weeks after he revealed he was ill. 


In his obit, Stowe called himself “a long-displaced paperboy for the Des Moines Register and Tribune and Nevada Journal” who became “an activist by disposition” after receiving college degrees from Grinnell College, the universities of Illinois and Wisconsin, and Loyola Law School in New Orleans. He studied engineering, economics and industrial relations in law, and would at various times work in the steel, coal and energy industries before turning to human relations, public works and the water system. He liked a good debate. 

Stowe recalled being a high school page at the Iowa Senate, where he met his wife, Amy Beattie. They would have a son, Liam Stowe, who also attended Grinnell College. Bill Stowe was active at St. Anthony Catholic Church and Emmaus House

The many notes and messages from well-wishers in recent weeks “filled our hearts,” Stowe wrote. He added that he understood that “like clean water, life takes a village.”

This morning, Gillette reveled in Stowe’s complexities. “Bill was so funny. He kind of hated the celebrity status, but he he kind of liked it, too,” Gillette said. (Editor’s note: Let’s just say he was at ease in front of a TV camera.)

“It was a joke that when someone said something about his celebrity, he thought they should repeat it over and over,” Graham said with a laugh. Stowe was the subject of more than one Raygun T-shirt, a feat that is unusual in local governmental circles, to be sure. 

Gillette said he’ll remember Stowe most for his dogged campaign to clean Iowa’s waterways, for his vision in planning long-range improvements, and for the way he treated people. That last part probably came from his work in human resources at the city of Des Moines. 

“He had respect for the individual,” Gillette said. “He would set aside a personnel file and give people a chance, even if the data suggested a problem, because he saw something in the person.”

Gillette added: “He was very interested in making the world a better place.”

Stowe donated his body for scientific research. The family requests memorial gifts be made, in lieu of flowers, to St. Anthony Catholic Church or Emmaus House.