The Town of Brookneal lost a beloved and valuable member of its community with the passing of Mayor James “Champ” Nowlin. He was 74 years old.
Nowlin became mayor of Brookneal in 2019 and held the office for three years following his election to the post in November 2018. He succeeded Phyllis Campbell, who held the office before him. Prior to that, he served as Vice-Mayor of Brookneal since 2005 and a member of the Brookneal Town Council since July 1992.
According to an article in The Union Star written after his election to mayor, “Nowlin is a popular figure around town and has been a tremendous asset to the town.”
Brookneal Town Clerk Bobbie Waller pointed out, “He was the first African-American mayor to serve in the Town of Brookneal. Champ never met a stranger and was loved by everyone that knew him. He will be sorely missed by his Town of Brookneal family and the entire Brookneal community.”
Richard Adams, Vice-Mayor of Brookneal, stated, “I served with Mayor Nowlin for two decades, and he was a unique guy. He dedicated his life first to God, second to his family, and third to the town. Champ was a unique person because he never would forget anyone he met, and nobody would forget him. During the course of his tenure as mayor, I worked closely with him on legal matters, financial business, and other town matters.
“He’s a person I’m sorely going to miss. He took his role very seriously, but it was always in terms of what was going to improve or enhance things for the people of this community. I don’t think he ever met a stranger. His loss is one that is going to take us time to get used to. It’s not something I had ever anticipated. He appointed me as vice mayor, and I’ll assume the role of mayor until the next election,” Adams explained.
In reference to some of the many accomplishments of the town council during Nowlin’s tenure Adams added, “We worked on restaffing the town as positions became available, and we have the best staff. We’ve worked on things such as the recent flooding of the town water plant and handled it with no loss of service. Champ was the coordinator and cheerleader for that effort which included all the town staff.”
As heartbreaking as the loss of Nowlin is to the community, the town still has to move forward. Adams remarked, “We’re going to look at what we want to accomplish during this calendar year for the town and its citizens. That was one of Champ’s trademarks: everything he did was for the community and never for personal gain. I know that there have been changes in the personnel of other communities in the area. These kinds of changes are hard, and I wish them all the best.”
Adams concluded, “I was fortunate to get to know him, work with him, and call him a friend.”
Nowlin was a longtime member of the Brookneal Lions Club. Fellow member Dr. Bill Jones remarked, “Champ was in the Lions Club for over 20 years and was an active member. He was interested in seeing the Lions Club be successful because he wanted to see the town be successful. He served in all the roles, including president and vice president,” Jones noted.
Nowlin was born and raised in Pittsylvania County and graduated from Northside High School in 1966, according to his obituary. He had a career of 33 years as a lineman with Dominion Power (previously called Virginia Power).
For 52 years, Nowlin was married to Mary Nowlin, and they have two daughters, Natisha Dews and Nicole Dow, and several grandchildren and other relatives.
According to his obituary, he was a member of First Church of Jesus, where he “served well as deacon, church treasurer, organist, choir director, Sunday school teacher, usher, member of the culinary committee, and as a mentor to many of our youth. James had a great love for music. He used his gift singing in many states, traveling with his family choir, the Joyful Jubilees, and most with the Faith Unlimited Gospel Quartet. The voice that James had reached many souls, and through it many were drawn to Christ.”
The impact that one man can have on a community is immeasurable when it comes to someone like Champ Nowlin. He was a regular person, yet he touched the lives of so many people and positively impacted them in so many ways. He can never be replaced, but his memory will live on in the hearts of those he impacted. Adieu, Mayor Nowlin. Rest in peace.
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