Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Bethlehem Gives Gordie Mowrer Unusual Good-Bye
Bethlehem said goodbye to Gordie Mowrer, known as The Main Street Mayor, in a memorial service on July 26 at Bethlehem's Central Moravian Church. Over 350 people braved 90-degree temperatures to pay their respects, but Mowrer, a former Moravian Pastor known for his gentle humor, had a surprise for them.
Central Moravian Church, with its wonderful acoustics, is a regular host for the Bach Choir, Christmas Vespers and Handel's Messiah. Love of music is part of a rich Moravian tradition. It's where Haydn's oratorio, The Creation, made its debut in this country. So the rich organ prelude at the beginning of the service, performed by Rebecca Kleintop Owens, could be expected. But as soon as she was finished, The Mainstreet Brass began performing "Dead Man Blues." Jelly Roll Morton would say, "I believe I hear that trambone moan," and moan it did. A New Orleans funeral dirge was certainly weather appropriate, but what about the family? Did the Moravians finally go too far with their love of music?
His daughter Margaret, the baby of the family, explained. Mowrer wanted that music and asked for it himself. "When the Saints Go Marching In" was trumpeted as everyone else marched out at the end of the service.
"While he was dying, he would still sing to me," said his baby daughter. In phone calls to her, he'd start singing, "You are my sunshine" or "I just called to say I love you." She became a social worker after watching him help people while he was Chaplain at St.Luke's Hospital. "He had empathy and compassion. That's what this world needs.”
Daughter-in-law Betty described a one-man welcome wagon who was always offering the apartment above his garage to people in need.
Son George described his father as a risk-taker who "always did what he thought was right." His father once told him, "Relationships matter. People matter."
Mowrer served as Bethlehem's Mayor between 1974 and 1978, and then again for a year in 1987. He also served several terms on City Council.
Though he had degrees from Dickinson College and Lehigh University, Mowrer would return to the Moravian Theological Seminary in the '90s, and was ordained by Advent Moravian Church in 1992.
Mowrer is called "The Main Street Mayor" because he rebelled against "urban renewal" premised on tearing down buildings and replacing them with something more "modern." Historic downtown Bethlehem, with its specialty shops along Main Street, would have been bulldozed for big department stores. Mowrer reversed that trend in his single term as Mayor.
"There's only one thing Bethlehem has to sell, and that is its history," he writes in The Comeback Kid, his autobiography. "The uniqueness of Bethlehem is our history; that's what we have to sell, and if we try to sell anything else we are going to fail. Bethlehem is not a shopping center, it is not a brand-new community, we are an old city that has charm and delight, and we need to sell that."