I’ve been composing this letter in my mind over the past few weeks trying to distill many thoughts into a reasonably succinct form to honor the memory of Dr. McGowan. The growth of Bellarmine over the past two decades is testament to his leadership and vision, but he also possessed tremendous heart and humor, which was apparent in many facets of his personal and professional endeavors. During freshman orientation in early fall of 1990, I sat in Wyatt Hall among my peers anxiously wondering what lie ahead as I began my tenure at Bellarmine. During his welcome address, Dr. McGowan told us that he, too was a freshman at Bellarmine, and that we would all grow and learn together over the next four years. The humility and frankness of Dr. McGowan’s remarks served as an affirmation I had chosen the right school.
The Concord needed a Photo Editor at the time, so I joined the newspaper staff on the spot and held the position for over three years. I got to know Dr. McGowan on a more personal level through this post as I covered almost all campus events, one of which was the 1990 Hillside Concert. R.U.O.K. put on a great show. Late into the event, with my flash batteries depleted and many students becoming a bit “blurry,” Dr. McGowan unexpectedly took the stage and began a glorious impromptu performance of Elvis’ Are You Lonesome Tonight—a cappella, no less. With no flash and very little light, I cranked my aperture wide open, set the shutter speed to glacial and hit the release button, hoping for the best. I was stunned while in the darkroom making prints of my Hillside photos to see a blurry image emerge not of Dr. McGowan, but what appeared to be Elvis Presley! Jaws dropped throughout The Concord office as the photo was passed around and a plan was set: The photo would run on the front page of The Discord (our April 1st edition) with the headline “Elvis is alive and well and running the college!” Dr. McGowan LOVED it.
My second recollection is from the spring of 1991. Four of us wondered what kind of buzz we could generate if we all wore black trench coats, sunglasses and hats and just went about our day (bear in mind that Columbine, 9/11 and Virginia Tech hadn’t yet happened). Our social experiment wound up getting a bigger than anticipated reaction. Word quickly spread around campus of guys dressed in black and we all started getting questions ranging from “Are you supposed to be the Blues Brothers?” to “What are you protesting?” It all came to a head that afternoon when we were summoned to the President’s Office, where Dr. McGowan expressed his concern about the fear we were generating (which none of us had remotely considered). In a moderately stern tone, he opened the meeting with, “I don’t know what you guys are doing, but I think it’s pretty stupid.” We told him our dress and behavior was nothing more than a social experiment done for no reason other than we were four freshmen exercising what turned out to be marginal judgment. Satisfied with our story and relieved that our intentions were harmless, he relaxed and said, “Come on, I’ll buy you guys a Coke.”
Dr. McGowan enjoyed Secret Service (-type) protection as we flanked him walking from Horrigan Hall to Koster Commons. He was a great sport about the whole thing and sat in the cafeteria with us chatting about classes, campus housing, work and summer plans as we enjoyed refreshments. Campus violence was rare at that time, but I have to imagine the psychology of him accompanying us to the busy cafeteria served to allay any angst we had caused.
At the 1994 Commencement, Dr. McGowan reprised his message about how he had been a freshman in 1990 just as we were, and how we had grown and learned during the four years we had spent together. Those words again served as an affirmation that I had chosen my school wisely. As I accepted my diploma from him, I shook Dr. McGowan’s hand firmly and said in my best Elvis drawl, “Thank yuh. Thank yuh vereh much!” We were both laughing so hard the photo came out a bit blurry—quite appropriate!
Scott A. Scheel ’94