On February 25th, we lost our greatest teacher — our Papa. My grandfather was many wonderful things. He was so incredibly intelligent, wonderfully determined, and more compassionate than he’d ever willingly admit. He cared so deeply for his family and made my cousins and I feel just about invincible. Papa had a way with us kids. He gave us the most incredible childhood. When we were younger, we spent so much time in Denison running around the woods behind their house, catapulting each other off chairs from the rope swing, picking roses for Granny from the front garden, eating cheerios and tea with lots of Splenda, reading stories out of the bloodstained fairytale book, galloping around the living room to the record player, and playing with fire out back as soon as it got dark. Papa and Granny gave us every kid’s dream world in Denison. “Do anything you’d like as long as you don’t lose a finger” was the general idea around the house. We did have a few close calls: a missing fingertip from a gardening sheer accident, a bleeding head from our DIY boulder pulley, and several BB gun-related injuries. Our memories together at Spring Creek, with Papa and Granny, are something I’m certain the six of us will cherish for the rest of our lives.
My grandparents created the most wonderful family. They’ve given us all lives filled with so much joy, laughter, and love. Our family is not without faults — we shout at one another, and we fight like cats and dogs, but at the end of the day, we’d all do absolutely anything for one another. We’re all connected by these two incredible people who taught us how to care so much for one another.
Papa taught each one of us a lot of things. We learned to be resilient, to work hard, to play hard, to write with neat handwriting, to build things, to start a fire, and so much more. Papa never babied us. To him, we were always more than capable. There was nothing we couldn’t do. Sure, maybe ten-year-olds shouldn’t be doing some of them, but to him, that was never enough of a reason for us not to. I think that’s one of the things I’ll miss most about him. He had an eye for potential and saw us all for who we could become regardless of how ridiculous we acted around the house. He was unapologetically authentic when everyone else was sugarcoating things. He was grounded and everyone loved him for it.
Papa drove me to school every single day in seventh and eighth grade. Each morning we’d drink tea and eat cheerios, in the winter it was porridge. We talked about life, and somehow Papa always turned it into a history lesson. He was so intelligent. I told him he was the smartest person I knew. Granny once told me she thought it’d be hard to marry a man smarter than her until she met him. His intelligence was inviting, like he wanted you to know everything he knew. Each morning we drove down Josephine Street on the way to school as he sang “Oh, my dearest Josephine!” He always had a story about a famous Josephine and regardless of how early it was, Josephine Street always made us both smile.
For the last six years, we had debatably the best and the worst next-door neighbors. We called it “assisted living.” Granny and Papa lived next door so we could keep an eye on them. Through all the time we were supposed to be taking care of them, they unknowingly took care of us too. Having them next door was something we will always cherish. There were moments where it was so hard to watch them age, but there were so many moments where we felt so lucky to be with them through it all. I loved finding Papa reading the paper on the porch every morning. It was where he was happiest. He had stories for everyone in the neighborhood, and sitting there with him was a slice of simplicity. I will miss doing fashion shows for Pops, I will miss reading him essays we were proud of, I will miss drinking tea with him, I will miss celebrating with him, I will miss him griping at us for not being in the clean plate club, I will miss singing for him, I will miss watching Jeopardy with him, and I know that more than anything, we will all miss seeing him smiling on the front porch.
So many people have reached out to my family recently. Everyone has a story about Papa, as he taught us all something, whether that was the Greek alphabet, the Gettysburg Address, how to cook porridge, how to drive his MG, or how to garden “properly”. Unknowingly, he taught us all so much more. He taught us how to show up for those we love, how to make the best of our situations, how to be resilient, how to persevere, and how to love one another the McGowan way. None of us needed him to tell us how much he loved us, he showed us every day in the ways he taught us. He left us knowing he taught us everything he needed to.
Richard James McGowan was extraordinary. He was an incredible father, husband, father-in-law, dog owner, and the absolute greatest grandfather. The six of us have never known the world without Papa, but boy, did he explore the world before we came along. May we all live lives as full of adventure and love as he did.
We miss you terribly, but we find comfort in one another thanks to the wonderful family you left behind. We will get through this together, just like you taught us to. Give ’em hell out there, Pops. We love you.