Inspiring Okeechobee: Civic-minded Mayor Dowling Watford inspires community

OKEECHOBEE — Husband, father, grandfather, mayor, historian, civic-minded, faithful, volunteer, a lover of Okeechobee — Dowling Watford is truly one who inspires. As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida this past September, many people sprung into action to make sure that we citizens of Okeechobee were assisted before, during, and after the storm. One of those folks was our mayor, Dowling Watford. This writer wonders if he even slept during the month of September.

Dowling Watford

Dowling is one who just never seems to be able to say no to anyone. He can be found at nearly any event hosted in the community, as one of the principal organizers or a fervent supporter. City administrator, Marcos Montes de Oca, notes, “Dowling has continued to show our community that he truly does have a heart for them. He attends more functions that anyone and is part of so many worthwhile organizations, that to keep up with him is a true challenge.” He continues, “Dowling is one of the city’s family that places his care for Okeechobee above himself. He wants the community to be a light and place for others to not just move to, but call home.

“His inspiration to the city is that of leadership and presence. Over his past time as councilman, over 35 years, he has continued to portray friendliness, care and fellowship.

Dowling works hand and hand with citizens to complete projects and continues to look at the vision.” Marcos concludes, “I’m not only proud to call Dowling part of my city family, but also a true friend.”

Dowling also loves to participate in battle reenactments all over Florida, and has been an integral part of the Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park. Every February you can count on seeing him out on the battlefield at the reenactment, but what you don’t necessarily see is the leg work that he has put in prior to those few minutes on the battlefield. In the months prior to the reenactment, Dowling can be found talking to hundreds of schoolchildren to share a bit of history of the Seminole Wars, promoting the event, and organizing the event with the help of the friends of the battlefield.

Fellow historian, Magi Cable shared, “Dowling and I seem to share a lot of the same interests, so it is a good thing we get along! I would describe it as love of the community which has influenced us so much. The common thread is preserving and protecting our history.”

Magi and Dowling have worked together on many projects, but really have had the opportunity to work on the city’s centennial and then the county’s centennial celebrations — both year-long efforts to share with Okeechobee its storied history. Magi relates that it was Dowling who pitched the idea of a Speaker’s Series, which in Magi’s words, “turned out to be one of the most popular events” of the centennial celebrations.

She continues, “He is also a crowd favorite during tours of the Historical Society Museum with his enthusiasm and storytelling skills!” She concluded, “All of his passion for history serves an important function, preserving the history of this place and sharing that knowledge with others so that this sense of community is kept alive into the future!”

With all his civic-minded activities, I would say those who know Dowling well would confirm that faith and family are even more important to him. Wife, Cheri, met Dowling in 1993 and the two married in 1995 bringing their blended family together. She said, “What has inspired me is Dowling’s faith and love for his family and grandchildren.” Cheri continues, “First and most [important], Dowling is involved with his grandchildren. Second, Dowling has been blessed to serve his hometown community for 35 years [as councilman and mayor] which he takes very seriously and very passionately,” Cheri concludes saying, “I’m also inspired that he helps anyone that is in need with no questions asked, and that is just the genuine and humble person Dowling Watford is.”

Thank you, Dowling for loving our community and inspiring us.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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