North Garden, VA - If you've been around here for a number of years and driven up route 29 toward Charlottesville, you are probably familiar with "The Waving Man."
He's a legend, but in recent years he is rarely out at his post. Where has he been?
For nearly two decades he waved and waved, bringing a smile to many a passerby, and singing--- or reading gospel-- to himself, or anyone who stopped to listen.
Today, Jimmy Dowell is still singing, but at age 79, he's moved to a more comfortable location. Dowell is calling Mom's Laundromat in North Garden home base these days. He cleans up the place, though he doesn't get paid.
"Yeah I kinda take care of things for Mr Verne. Look after things. Make me feel good, too, make me feel like I am somebody," says Dowell.
From there, he walks around the corner to do his waving and greeting at the Crossroad Store. "Howdy! Y'all have a good day!" "How ya doing buddy?" Dowell can spend hours greeting a regular flow of customers.
Dowell gets asked all the time about his waving, and where he's been. "Yes ma'am lot of people still do lot of people still ask me about waving. 'We want you back on the road we want you back out on the road! We haven't seen you we miss you!,'" Dowell says he hears it a lot.
But it's almost better this way, because now you can stop and talk, and listen.
"My oldest sister she doesn't like me to talk about the prison, but I have to talk about it. That's where God found me at. That's where he brought me out of prison. If I don't talk about the prison, I don't have no story."
Dowell has a story all right. His layers put an onion to shame. "Wish I could-- the bad things I did I wish I could turn it around, but I can't."
Dowell was an angry man before he turned to waving. He has been to prison twice-- first for manslaughter, after getting in a fight with another man. Then for first degree murder- Dowell says he killed his girlfriend in anger after catching her cheating. But it was during his 18 years in prison he says God told him to start waving.
"But you know I was a great baseball player too. I was the Jackie Robinson type. If anybody seen Jackie Robinson they seen me. I was the same thing. I could steal home. Nobody- we was in the Negro league and I was the only one in the league that could steal home," boasts Dowell.
And he was quite the attraction. He's even featured in a history book on local baseball.
"It was his lightning quick hands and daring moves, seldom seen or duplicated by any catcher black or white in the region that put him at the top of the list. No one had seen a catcher do the things Dowell did behind the plate," the author writes. "That's right that's right! I was something! People come from every which way to watch me play ball!"
People came as much for his singing as they did his playing... he would regularly burst out behind the plate.
"The crowd loved it. I sang I jumped, oh honey I did everything that any man could do."
So you might not be surprised to learn Dowell also sang in country and bluegrass bands. Gospel too.
Today, Dowell has a place to lay his head at night, but no official home, and yet he's one of the happiest men you'll meet.
"It touched my heart when people tell me they missed me, I didn't know too many people missed me."
Dowell says he does still go out on the highway from time to time in nice weather and he's planning to get out there more this spring.
You watch the original piece on the Waving Man that aired in May 2003 in the video player above the story.