James Lowe Sr. never used an alarm clock. He believed if you had to set a clock to wake up for work then you didn't have the right job. He was a brick mason, a good one, too. He laid bricks on the original buildings at Columbus State University, helped build Columbus Square and went all over the country when work here was scarce.
Betty Hicks Lowe stayed home with their kids until her youngest son started third grade. She was a domestic worker and then she got a job in the kitchen at S&S Cafeteria in Columbus, baking biscuits and applying a mother's touch to whatever she fixed.
At their simple house on the south side of Phenix City, work wasn't who you were but work was what you did. They grew up as Alabama sharecroppers. James was from a one-horse family with 35 acres to plow. Betty came from a two-horse family that had 70 acres of crops. Neither finished high school and they dreamed of so much more for their children.
They could never have dreamed so large, for their younger sons now hold two of the primary leadership positions in the town where they were reared -- and their sons will tell you that it began with Big Daddy and Big Mama.
James Jr., their oldest, is a lifetime educator at the high school and college levels. He is president of Bishop State Community College in Mobile.
Woodrow, their middle son, was a football star at the University of Alabama and the NFL and is back home as head coach at Central-Phenix City.
Eddie, their youngest, also played for the Crimson Tide then spent a decade in the Canadian Football League. He is senior vice president of CB&T of East Alabama and the newly installed mayor of his hometown.
"It has always been about making them proud," Eddie said.
Eddie was the baby of the family and always will be. With that role came expectations. He was supposed to emulate his big brothers and at the dinner table he was at the end of the line.
"Oh yeah, there was a pecking order," Woodrow explained. "My mom fried chicken all the time and in a chicken there are eight pieces. There were six of us and you know who got the wing. I didn't taste a chicken breast until I was grown."
Their father taught them to work. Their mother taught them to be fair. Eddie remembers that when kids playing at their house got thirsty she measured the water in every glass.
"She lined them up to be sure every glass was equal," Eddie says. "She told us to never look down on anybody."
She had super powers, too.
"I thought my mama could do anything -- some things my Daddy couldn't do," Woodrow said. "She wore a cape. She could fly. Our mother was Superwoman."
It was a house with values, and it started with James Sr., who at the age of 17 ran away to fight in World War II.
"I thank God he had the courage to run away," Eddie said, knowing their lives would have been different if they had grown up in the country. "He had the vision that all good leaders have -- and yes, he was a leader."
He could lay bricks in a straight line all day long but he wanted his sons to have other opportunities. Going to school was never an issue, not for his children.
"He believed that if you didn't get out of life what you're supposed to get, it was your fault," Woodrow added.
Then they met Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Talk to either brother and the name of Bryant is invoked. He left an impression that time hasn't erased.
The Crimson Tide wasn't an option for big brother James. Like them, he was a linebacker. He couldn't go to Central High. He went to all-black South Girard. He didn't get a scholarship to a Southeastern Conference powerhouse. He went to Bethune-Cookman.
So when Woodrow went to Tuscaloosa in 1971, he took the spirit of James with him. He became a three-time All-American, played on four SEC championship teams and has a national championship ring. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He spent 11 years in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers and missed only one game because of injury.
Woodrow loved Bryant and he knew his coach loved him but it wasn't a mushy kind of affection. There was also an element of fear, such as the morning of the 1975 Sugar Bowl when Woodrow missed the team bus for the game with Penn State.
He was settling up at the front desk of the Fountainebleau Hotel when he saw the buses start to move. He was wearing his team blazer and a pair of slacks but there was nothing to do but run. With a police escort, the buses moved through the narrow streets of New Orleans with a star linebacker running alongside.
Teammates cheered through the window and so did assistant coaches. At every intersection, Woodrow caught up. He had to get to the stadium before the bus.
He made it.
As players left the buses, he joined them. He thought he fooled his head coach but now he knows better. But how do you punish a guy who ran all the way to the stadium?
"I wasn't tired," he said. "I was scared."
And the 13-6 victory over Penn State was one of Woodrow's finest moments in a Crimson Tide jersey.
Eddie assumed he would follow Woodrow to Tuscaloosa but everyone told him he was too small -- a rap that still galls him. When the Tide didn't call, he signed with UT-Chattanooga. He recorded 14 tackles in the Alabama High School All-Star Game making Alabama relent but he kept his commitment to the smaller school.
After an all-star year at Chattanooga, he left the troubled program and transferred to Alabama as a walk-on. He went on to be one of the captains of Bryant's final team and was a pallbearer at his funeral. He played 10 years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL, working as a banker in Columbus and Phenix City in the offseason.
They would hit you, but they would also pick you up. That's what leaders do and Woodrow and Eddie have always led, doing so in the unselfish context of a team.
"It's not about self," Eddie stressed, and isn't always about winning. "The sun comes up the next morning whether you win or lose."
To at-large councilmember Chris Blackshear, their work ethic is their most important trait. He saw it in Woodrow when he was on the search committee that hired him at Central. He saw it in Eddie when they jumped into politics as candidates for the Phenix City Commission this year.
"Their mother and father raised them right. They were taught that hard work can overcome anything," Blackshear said. "They're not changing who they are. Woodrow is making kids realize what hard work can accomplish and Eddie is telling the community to watch what five people can do by working together. When you see them work so hard, it makes you work hard."
At Central, Woodrow has started a program called the Training Table that replicates one at Alabama where players were taught how to act, how to dress and how to behave. "I saw my first lobster at one of those dinners," he laughed. "I said, 'Look at that big old crawdad.'"
Mary Jane Riley, an assistant superintendent in Phenix City and former Central teacher, leads the program. When she had to teach the players to tie a tie, she learned herself. "We call it Manners 101. We teach them to help each other and love each other," she said.
Each player is presented a coin that they're supposed to keep in their pocket at all times. On one side is an inscription: GCP. "That stands for Good, Clean and Pure. If something isn't GCP, they are supposed to go the other way," she said.
Eddie Lowe plans to apply similar tactics to the full-contact world of Phenix City politics, where teamwork hasn't often been part of the playbook.
In a prayer at the swearing-in ceremony, the Rev. Raymond Cochran of Franchise Missionary Baptist Church alluded to team-building. "God we pray now for solidarity between all of them that they would be in one accord. Let them know they are a team for you."
Eddie arrived with a mandate. In a crowded race, 64 percent of the voters -- white and black -- elected him without a runoff, and, while they were at it, sent a bevy of incumbents home.
Lowe, Blackshear, Jim Cannon, Gail Head and Arthur Day are being called "The Dream Team," but fulfilling dreams requires teamwork, the new mayor said.
Seeing his 88-year-old father at his inauguration gives Eddie hope and humility. James Sr. still drives his own car and still demands respect from the head coach and the mayor.
Woodrow Lowe just finished a 7-4 season at Central that took the Red Devils into the state playoffs. Eddie Lowe just finished an unexpected political race that swept him into mayor's office. And everyday they apply the lessons of Big Daddy and Big Mama.
Eddie describes a photo in the Ledger-Enquirer after the 2004 Auburn-Georgia football game. A black woman and white man, both Bulldog fans, were hugging.
"If you can pull people together for a football game, surely you can do it in life," Eddie said. "Our skin may be our biggest organ but the most important one is our heart."