Champion of the Community - Dowdy Retires After a Lifetime of Giving Back


Lisa Patrick

The Ashland Beacon


   An era is ending, as one of Ashland’s most beloved supporters is ready to retire, but make no mistake, she don’t need no rocking chair yet. Sue Gilmore Dowdy has lived in Ashland her entire life. A graduate of Fairview High School, she spent almost all of her adult years as an advocate, a volunteer, and a benefactor to the community that she loves. At the end of this year, Sue will hang up her hat as the Director of the Ashland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau office downtown and settle into the life of a retiree.

   Dowdy began her career at Ashland Oil straight out of high school. “I was barely seventeen and I stayed there for 32 years,” Dowdy shared. She started as a secretary and worked her way up until she was the manager of the Ashland Oil Foundation that “gave away contributions to everything in town.” Through all of this, Dowdy managed to attend college by night at ACTC, majoring in business.

   After retiring from Ashland Oil at the age of 47, she became a field representative for Congressman Ken Lucas, knowing that it was going to be a short-term position. Not wanting to let any grass grow under her feet, Sue explained, “when the job in tourism opened up, I applied.” She has now been the Director of the Ashland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for more than 18 years.

   “It’s been a great ride because almost everything that I’ve ever done, I’ve been able to be involved in the community,” Dowdy pointed out. “The Ashland Oil Foundation gave me the opportunity to be on a lot of different boards and to help start the [local] festivals. They let their employees be involved in the community.”

   Sue Dowdy was fortunate enough to help with initiating the Winter Wonderland of Lights and was given the “privilege of naming Summer Motion” which was a play on the song Locomotion. She also got to help start Poage Landing Days, Leadership Kentucky, Leadership West Virginia, and Leadership Tri-State. She has been on the board of the Ashland Alliance and the Chamber of Commerce for 35 years.

   But she didn’t stop there. Dowdy spent 10 years on the Human Rights Commission board at the appointment of former Governor Paul Patton, who also appointed her to the board of the GED Foundation. Sue has been involved in so many projects and boards that have served the community over the years that she now has a hard time remembering all of them. Local highlights that she has had a chance to be involved in are the Highlands Museum, Easter Seals, and the Paramount. She shared that the thing that she is most proud of is the Sounds of Christmas Children’s Charities, and she plans on keeping it going after her official retirement.

   Over the years, Dowdy would have opportunities to go to meetings in New York City and Washington, D.C. She excitedly shared, “I would save my money so that I could buy a ticket to see Broadway shows.”  While Cats remains her favorite Broadway show, she got the opportunity to see Donny Osmond in Boston, and that was rather breathtaking, as well. She was able to attend Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. As an active member of the Democratic Party, she got to attend the Democratic convention where she met Bobby Kennedy, Jr. and his wife and she was able to sit beside John Kennedy, Jr. Another definite highlight was lunch at the White House with First Lady Barbara Bush, an exciting feat for anyone to achieve.

   As the Director of Tourism in Ashland, the things that she tells visitors about the most are the festivals. She said that they always direct people to Central Park and the pond that is in the shape of Kentucky. Now, the statues at the Riverfront and the new Broadway Square are focal points “and, of course, all the great shows at the Paramount.”

   Dowdy confirmed, “I’ve been involved in so much in the community that it’s hard to wind down. I still want to volunteer, but I’m going to take a few months to settle and figure out where I am because I’ve always been so busy.” She’s not planning on completely stepping away from her busy role in the community, though. She has already rented an office in the arcade “where I can go in every day downtown and still feel like I’m involved in the community.” And she’s excited to have an office in the Camayo Arcade “because it’s just beautiful and it’s always been one of my favorite buildings.”

   Upon reflection, Dowdy is certain that she will miss the people the most. There are so many visitors that pop in at the AACVB to pick up local publications like the Ashland Beacon, Kentucky Monthly, and Kentucky Living magazine. “We always kept the coffee pot going and people took advantage of being able to get the information that they wanted and to visit [with us] at the same time.”

   “It’s good to retire when you still like your job,” declared Dowdy, who feels that she is leaving on “a really pleasant level, although I hate that it’s during a pandemic. It has been an unusual time to work the last 10 months of my career, but I have a really wonderful son and daughter-in-law that have taken great pains to keep me safe during the pandemic.” So when some of her community partners mentioned having a party for her, she told them, “Are you crazy? Phillip (Dowdy’s son) isn’t going to let me go to a party!” She said that might be something that she will try to do later, but for right now, she’s going to do her best to stay safe and enjoy retirement.