State Rep. Gary Rowe, the chairman of the Shelby County legislative delegation, died early today of cancer at Baptist Memorial Hospital Memphis.
State House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh announced Rowe’s sudden death after a “short battle with cancer” as the legislature was in session.
“This is such a loss for all of us in the House of Representatives,” Naifeh said in the announcement.
Rowe, 56, was first elected in 2005, claiming the District 87 seat vacated by Kathryn Bowers who, at that time, had been elected to the state Senate.
His entry into elected politics came after over 20 years as the city’s most visible advocate of minority business development. Rowe was the president and general partner of the Memphis Business Development Corp. (MBDC). He began calling for businesses owned by African-Americans and other minorities to get a share of government construction and purchasing contracts at a time when bid contracts and other reforms were still relatively new to what had been a closed system.
Although Rowe had few allies when those efforts began, he was in the vanguard of a cause later joined by others as black political leaders began assuming more elected offices in city and county government.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry of Memphis termed Rowe’s death a “tragedy.”
“Though his time in the legislature was brief, his spirit and his work will live on for years to come,” she said.
In Nashville, Rowe was secretary of the House Government Operations Committee.
The Shelby County Board of Commissioners could appoint someone to fill the remainder of Rowe’s two year term of office which runs out at the end of the year.