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  • The Forest and the Trees: A Memoir of a Man, a Family, and a Company by Floyd McGowin
  • James E. Fickle
The Forest and the Trees: A Memoir of a Man, a Family, and a Company. By Floyd McGowin. Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, 2015. x, 333pp. $27.95. ISBN 978-1-60306-374-6.

The McGowin family of Chapman, Alabama, has been a major leader in the economic, social, and political life of Alabama, the South, and the nation since the turn of the twentieth century. Owners of the W.T. Smith Lumber Company and the company town of Chapman until selling out to Union Camp in 1966, the McGowins reflected the evolution of corporate forestry and lumber manufacturing during that period. The first McGowin of Chapman was James Greeley [End Page 368] McGowin, who was succeeded by his sons Floyd, Earl, and Julian (co–founder of the forestry consulting firm of Pomeroy & McGowin, now Larson & McGowin). They in turn were followed by Floyd’s two sons, Greeley and the author, Floyd, who worked as company administrators until its sale. Floyd then spent the rest of his career founding and running the Rocky Creek Logging Company until 1991. The story of the McGowins and the forest products industry is, however, only part of this book, and the company history is covered more comprehensively in John Appleyard, The W.T. Smith Lumber Company: A Chronicle (Pensacola, FL: Bodree Printing, 2008).

The Forest And the Trees originated in Floyd McGowin’s desire to tell his personal story to his descendants. The book begins with the lyrics of a song entitled “The Log Train” by Hank Williams that was recorded as a demo in 1952 and subsequently long forgotten. Williams’ father drove a log train for the W.T. Smith Lumber Company, and the song is the first of many references, from the trivial to the significant, that give life to this memoir. McGowin has an incredible memory for detail and for the appearances and characteristics of the places and people that he encountered during his life. He is more than willing to evaluate the motives, abilities, and performances of those with whom he interacted.

Floyd spent his early school years in Chapman, and the book includes interesting descriptions of the town. He then attended exclusive preparatory schools in Virginia and later New Jersey. A school official at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey suggested that he attend college at Yale, in part because of its highly regarded forestry school (which, in fact, was exclusively a graduate program). Ironically, McGowin majored in international relations and had little or no interaction with the forestry school.

There is relatively little in the volume about Floyd’s academic or social life at Yale, or of the courses, students, and faculty. The book is largely focused on the author’s passions. Born in 1931, his childhood was dominated by World War II, and in particular by a virtual obsession with the military, especially the U.S. Marines, and with [End Page 369] aviation. The McGowins were a musical family, and another lasting influence in Floyd’s life was a series of trips to nearby New Orleans with his Uncle Julian, where they visited small clubs and he acquired a lifelong love for jazz.

Long sections of the book recount Floyd’s flying lessons, describe the mechanics of piloting aircraft, and provide images of various airplanes. At Yale he enlisted in the reserve training program of the Marine Corps, hoping to become a Marine pilot. This dream was dashed by a failed hearing test, and he became an air traffic controller, while continuing to fly and earning certification and licenses in a variety of aircraft. He served on active duty with the Marines in Korea and Japan, and after the conclusion of his service returned to Chapman to work in various administrative capacities with the W.T. Smith Company. His passion continued to be flying, and he was soon developing a program for the firm, acquiring aircraft, building an airstrip, and conducting aerial surveys of the company’s lands and forests. Over the years he qualified for licenses to fly a variety of commercial aircraft, and...


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pp. 368-370
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