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McGowin leaves legacy of loyalty

In June 2009, there was a lot of uncertainty in Butler County revolving around the closure of the Chapman lumber mill that had been home to a generation of hard workers. That uncertainty dissipated, however, when Coastal Forest Products purchased the mill in September and reopened it in January of this year.

While officials in Georgiana and Greenville each rolled out the red carpet for Coastal, company president Kevin Luzak said during the official announcement of the mill’s re-opening that shared history brought Coastal Forest to Butler County. It was family ties, he said, between the Barringers, owners of Coastal, and the McGowins, former owners of the mill in Chapman.

On Saturday, one of the last links between the mill’s founders and the mill’s future was laid to rest. Norman Floyd McGowin Jr. was remembered in a special memorial service held at McGowin Field in Chapman, the civil airfield where the longtime aviator had spent countless hours in takeoff and landing, soaring high above the lumber empire established by his grandfather as the W.T. Smith Lumber Company.

The timber industry was his heritage and he spent the bulk of his life doing what he loved most; working with the trees and the people of Chapman’s mill while at W.T Smith, or later as owner of Rocky Creek Logging Company after the mill was sold to Union Camp Corporation. Clearly, McGowin Jr. cherished the respect his grandfather’s lumber industry had garnished throughout the state, but more so with the people of Chapman. Writing about the mill in “The W.T. Smith Lumber Company: A Chronicle (Pace, 2000),” McGowin Jr. stated, “It was class act in many respects and whatever subsequent success we had in business was certainly influenced by what we learned there. It was an ethical business, the customer always got good value, and the firm was well respected by the employees who showed great loyalty.”

As evidenced by Coastal Forest Products ownership of the mill, McGowin Jr. remained loyal to the people of Chapman and south Butler County in the end.
And for that, we will always be in his debt.