Ben Douglas Bowles, 87, of Salem, passed away peacefully on Saturday, June 1, 2019 in Roanoke surrounded by his family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Letcher Hill Bowles, Hazel Gearhart Robinson and Virginia Fortune Bowles; his wives, Patricia Kelly Bowles (1987) and Marcia Bryn Bowles (2015), and a daughter Katherine Bowles Rogers (2009).
Ben is survived by his children, Elizabeth Bowles, Mary Farrell, Douglas Bowles and Christina Sarabhai; ten grandchildren and great-grandchildren; his sisters, Martha Ann Higginbotham, Karen Pappas and Patricia Bleile. Also surviving are many nephews, nieces and extended family and friends.
Ben was born in Richmond, and raised near Roanoke and in Detroit, MI. The family relocated to Salem, VA where he learned to fly his father’s Piper Super Cruiser at Roanoke Airport before he graduated from Andrew Lewis High School in 1950. He attended Roanoke College but left school to enlist in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean crisis. As one of the first five pilots to fly the SR-71 Blackbird, he worked directly with the aircraft designer, Kelly Johnson, to develop numerous innovations associated with high altitude/high mach flight. Ben flew highly classified reconnaissance missions and was the first pilot to log over 900 hours flying the SR-71. Among other medals, he was awarded the Air Medal and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Ben retired from the Air Force in 1972 at the rank of Lt. Colonel then worked for 15 years as the Chief Corporate Pilot at Dayton Hudson/Target Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He relocated to Oviedo, Florida where he enjoyed riding his motorcycle, photography, and drawing. Ben loved cruises, traveling in his motorhome, and spending time with his cats.
The Bowles family would like to especially thank Dr. Rodney J. Poffenberger, Ben’s longtime Florida caregiver, Nadezda Vabishchevich, and all of his other caring, compassionate doctors, nurses, and caregivers.
Funeral services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery later this year. An online guestbook is available for family and friends by visiting www.johnmoakey.com.