After a year of knowing C.E. “Gene” Cowart, Pastor Matt Avera told him he was the happiest person he’d ever been around.
Cowart, a longtime Pembroke city councilman and onetime mayor who died Nov. 24 at age 79, liked to spread that happiness to others, and making a better city. Whether it was making children’s lives better, raising money through chicken dinners or setting out a vision for the city,
Cowart “was dedicated to the city of Pembroke,” said Mayor-elect Judy Cook.
Cowart’s funeral service was Saturday at First Baptist Church Pembroke.
Cook, a longtime city employee and legislator herself, served as city clerk under Cowart, who was on the council from 1976-90 and mayor from 1990-95. She described Cowart as “very conservative” with the city’s money, wanting to know how purchases would benefit the entire city. He also liked to set goals for where the city should be with projects and plan ahead.
Cook further described Cowart as “just a joy to work with.”
“He was great. He worked in Savannah, but he was on top of everything that went on with the city,” she said.
In addition to being a big part of city government for years, Cowart also was deeply involved with the community. According to his obituary from Flanders Morrison Funeral Home, Cowart was a founding member of the Pembroke Jaycees and a charter member of the Bryan County Shrine Club.
“You name it, he was part of it. And he loved Pembroke,” Cook said.
Current Mayor Mary Warnell added that Cowart “firmly supported our city.”
But his life’s work and impact went well beyond laws and regulations in city government.
Avera, who is the pastor at Pembroke United Methodist Church, knew Cowart for about 3½ years and said that upon first meeting Cowart, he noticed Cowart’s big smile and happy face and was handed a Werther’s chocolate candy by the former mayor. When Avera relayed that story during Cowart’s funeral service and asked the audience to guess what Cowart gave him, many in the audience instantly guessed Werther’s candy.
Cowart served the church as the head of the United Methodist Men, which would put together chicken dinners to raise money for charity.
However, Avera also described Cowart as someone who “just wanted to make children’s lives better.” One thing Cowart would do through his work in the Shriners, the pastor said, was transport children to hospitals in cities such as Tampa and Cincinnati.
“He was really digging deep in working with children and the children’s families as a Shriner. That, I think, became his greatest ministry at this phase of his life,” Avera said.
The pastor added that Cowart was genuine and transparent and had an ability to focus on the silver lining in dark clouds, even after the death of Cowart’s daughter, Teressa.
“He made you better just by being around him,” Avera said.
Cowart’s survivors include his wife of 59 years, Montene Smith Cowart; two sons, Steven Cowart (Crystal) and Mark Cowart (Jolene) all of Ellabell; a daughter, Diane Lightsey (Nelson) of Statesboro; a brother, Bobby Cowart of Pembroke; a sister, Jewel Owens of Pembroke; eight grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by a daughter, Teressa Cowart Sanders, and a sister, Kay DeLoach Martin.
Memorial contributions may be made to Pembroke United Methodist Church Building Fund, 102 N. College St., Pembroke, GA 31321; or Morris Slotan Fund, c/o Alee Shrine Temple, P.O. Box 14177, Savannah, GA 31406.