Founders Medal – Tommy Bowman, B.B.A. ’71

Founders Medal

December 22, 2023

Baylor University’s 179-year history is filled with tentpole moments that inspire the Baylor Family to carry forward our mission: to go out into the world in Christian leadership and service. These moments, and the people who stepped out in faith to follow their callings, also inspire generations of students to see new possibilities and follow in the footsteps of those who came before.

Tommy Bowman, B.B.A ’71, of Waco, Baylor’s 2024 Founders Medal recipient, is one such giant whose career at Baylor and beyond illustrates the impact we each can have on the lives of others.

“I am thrilled and honored to recognize Tommy Bowman as this year’s Baylor Founders Medal recipient,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. said. “As a student, Tommy led with integrity and excellence as a key member of our men’s basketball team, removing barriers within the Baylor community. As an alumnus, he continues to be a voice of support and accountability, both as a dedicated Baylor Bear and through his past service on the Board of Regents. He exemplifies our mission, and I am grateful for his transformational impact — both as part of our history and as he has helped to shape our future.”

Established in 1969, the Founders Medal is one of the highest honors conferred by Baylor University to deserving alumni and advocates whose support and service have shaped the University, impacting the future of Baylor in historically significant ways. Bowman’s service to the University began in 1966 when he arrived at Baylor as the first recruited Black scholarship student-athlete and forward for the Baylor men’s basketball team.

The story of Bowman’s road to Baylor began in the mid-1960s when the Baylor legend Carroll Dawson, who was then assistant basketball coach, was making a trip across Texas. He stopped at a gas station in Athens, Texas, where an attendant saw the Baylor sticker on his car and learned Dawson was a coach. The attendant proceeded to tell Dawson that the greatest basketball player in the state lived in Athens. That player was Tommy Bowman.

Dawson went to Bowman’s home and spent an hour and a half in the front yard with Bowman’s mom, helping her shell peas as they talked about Baylor and waited for Bowman to return home. Bowman recounts, “He sold her, and if I had not come to Baylor, I think she probably would have kicked me out of the house.”

Bowman played three varsity seasons at Baylor, averaging 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for his career and graduating with a degree in business. He led the Bears in scoring once and in rebounding twice, and he twice earned first-team All-Southwest Conference honors. Bowman was inducted into the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999 and into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame in 2018.

Off the court, Bowman met his wife, Jackie, at Baylor and formed lifelong friendships with his teammates. “It never occurred to me that I was the first Black person to receive an athletic scholarship,” Bowman said. “Nobody made me feel as if they were pretending or catering to me. They just received me and accepted me as one of the players, one of the students, one of the guys.”

Tommy and Jackie Bowman remained in Central Texas, becoming leaders in their community and building their family, which includes their son, Tommy, and their daughter, Krystal. Bowman is a manager with M. Lipsitz & Company, a scrap metal recycling company in Waco. Previously, he worked for more than 30 years with Central Freight Lines.

Community service has always been a hallmark of Bowman’s legacy. Thirty years after graduating, Bowman would return to serve on Baylor’s Board of Regents, a role he held from 2001-2010. He has also served on the boards of the YMCA of Waco, the City of Waco Parks and Recreation Department and the Waco chapter of the American Red Cross.

“Looking back on it, I can see the hand of God on this thing,” reflects Bowman. “And I feel like I was preordained to be at Baylor University.”