Holding Patrick Henry’s Seat

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon, and Del. Hyland F. “Buddy” Fowler Jr. ’95 thought he might go fishing. Then U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor called and invited him to lunch. He’d have to indulge his passion for the outdoors another day.

“If the House majority leader wants me to be somewhere, I’m marching,” said Fowler, who did plenty of that on the campaign trail last year. For months, he attended every fish fry and chicken pickin’ in Virginia’s 55th House District. Some days, he knocked on so many doors his knuckles ached.

You’re as likely to find Del. Buddy Fowler Jr. rabbit hunting with his beagles in Sussex County as working in his Virginia General Assembly office.

You’re as likely to find Del. Buddy Fowler Jr. rabbit hunting with his beagles in Sussex County as working in his Virginia General Assembly office.

Those efforts paid off. When election results rolled in on Nov. 5, 2013, the Republican had garnered 57 percent of the votes, besting his Democratic and Libertarian opponents for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates – where Cantor got his start.

“Fifteen thousand and some folks are pulling the lever for me. … It’s very humbling,” Fowler said. “I’m sitting in Patrick Henry’s seat in the legislature. To be representing that district, it’s a privilege and a huge responsibility.”

Fowler never intended to run for office. He grew up in Henrico County, not far from the state capital. After high school he took classes at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, where he met his wife of 33 years, Patsy Traylor, who was a nursing student.

Fowler built much of the couple’s house in Hanover County himself, digging the footers with a pick and shovel and handling carpentry and electrical work. He worked in the printing business for a while and co-owned a firm that handled medical billing. When Fowler’s partner passed away, he sold the business and decided to finish college.

Fowler’s sister had gone to UMW, and he said the school’s academic reputation and its proximity to home made it attractive. He majored in history and loaded up on economics classes.

“I always felt it was like getting an Ivy League education at public school prices,” said Fowler, who graduated with honors at age 40. “Whatever ability I have, I owe a lot of it to the school.”

The father of three somehow made time for intramural basketball at Mary Washington and earned the nickname “Bud Ice” for his cool demeanor at the free-throw line.

During Fowler’s senior year, he took a three-month internship with the General Assembly’s Joint Republican Caucus and ended up working there a decade. He was legislative aide to Republican Delegates Frank Hargrove Sr. and John Cox, both of whom served the 55th District. When Cox opted not to run again, the Republican Party turned to Fowler.

During his first legislative session this year, Fowler said he drew on some of the skills he picked up in his writing and speaking-intensive classes at Mary Washington, including how to formulate an argument and clearly convey a message. Two of the bills he sponsored passed both houses and earned the governor’s signature.

On the last day of the session, Fowler left the Capitol and drove straight to St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond. He arrived in time for the birth of his second grandson.

“I was able to tell people at least the day ended on a high note,” he said, allowing he never could have predicted his life’s trajectory. “I think some people look at life, and their path is more linear. I sort of zigged and zagged. I’ve been so blessed.”