Rita Mary Bowling, who pioneered the way for women in business and politics in San Benito County, died quietly Thursday, March 28, at Hazel Hawkins Hospital while surrounded by family. She was 76.

Mrs. Bowling was born in Rouyn, Quebec, Canada, and moved to Hollister with her family in 1946, where she attended Sacred Heart Parish School and San Benito High School. She continued to reside in Hollister for the rest of her life, and her love for her adopted community – and for all of San Benito County – manifested itself in her tireless devotion to its people.

Mrs. Bowling worked in the insurance industry for 30 years. At a time when few women entered the field, she eventually came to own her own agency, one that bore her name.

But it was in the arena of politics and public administration that she most clearly emerged as a leader. She was the first woman ever appointed as foreperson of the San Benito County Grand Jury.

In 1986, Mrs. Bowling became the first woman ever elected to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, and she continued to serve in that capacity over four terms for the next 16 years. She chaired the board in 1991, 1995, 1998 and 2002.

In a remarkable departure from the norm, Mrs. Bowling directed her own runs for office without accepting any contributions, underwriting her campaigns with a small amount of her own savings. Her hand-painted campaign signs became one of many trademark icons that marked her maverick approach to local politics. That approach never wavered from a commitment to what was best for her district and the county as a whole.

She was never defeated in a bid for the Board of Supervisors, but elected to leave office in 2002 in order to spend more time with her family.

Mrs. Bowling also served on the San Benito County Council of Governments, where she worked to improve local transportation infrastructure. She sat on the Veterans Memorial Park Commission for 14 years, and it was through her that the park was more fully developed. She was instrumental in securing support and funding for playing fields and restrooms, making the park the center for youth sports that it remains today.

Upon her departure from the board, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, read a statement into the Congressional Record. “Widely respected for her uncommon common sense, for speaking with candor and clarity and for her principled stands on the issues, Mrs. Bowling never withdrew from an opportunity to speak directly to the issues at hand,” Farr said. “San Benito County will miss her ‘Ritaisms.’ All those who worked with Mrs. Bowling, share my admiration for the unmatched dignity and professionalism that she brought to her four terms on the board.

“Through her enormous sense of decency, fairness, generosity, and commitment to the residents of San Benito County, Mrs. Rita Bowling has made it a better place for all residents.”

Mrs. Bowling was preceded in death by her husband of 48 years, Linden Bowling, parents Carmine and Ada Naccarato and by a string of the dogs she loved so much – Bobo, Heidi, Missy, Max and Jake.

She is survived by a sister, Enes Vallejo; brother-in-law Cecil Vallejo; daughters Gloria Lomanto and Carol Lenoir (Brian); grandchildren Hillary Lomanto (Frank), L.B. Lenoir and Ricky Lenoir; and great-grandchildren Samantha and Rocco Gamez. She also leaves behind Natalie Sosa, who was a loyal and caring friend through Mrs. Bowling’s last years.

In accordance with her wishes, no public services are planned, and private cremation is to take place with inurnment at St. Benedict’s Columbarium. Contributions are preferred to Pet Friends Rescue.