Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Great Man

The noon bell tolled as a great man, husband, father, friend and journalist flew gently up to a cloud to love us all from above.

Bob McGowan, born in 1944 with a mischievous sparkle in his penetrating blues eyes was a man that made most feel humbled by his modesty, grace and kindness. Even when his fire rose, his quick witted, sometimes cutting remarks were born from truth and fairness.

Gifted with exceptional eloquence his words would seldom leave no trace. Instead they would make the mark, soothing when pain reared its head, benevolent with sage advice and poignant with authority of the truth.

He soared like an eagle flying from the highest cliff’s edge with the utmost excellence and drive as the great reporter he was. Never satisfied that excellence was exalted or achieved he endeavoured to always improve upon his last story, sentence and word with vehement passion.

He fought gallantly and bravely to report from the front line be that a siege, war, the kidnapping of a child through to helping an elderly woman battle and win a fight against bureaucratic exploitation. He was a strong man who carried the vulnerable on his horse and took them home safely.

From rookie district reporter in Grismby to the Evening Standard and onto the Daily Express, Dad’s colourful career of reporting and liquid lunches spanned some 33 years.

He covered the 6 Day War, 1967, the IRA conflict in Northern Ireland onwards from 1969, Yom Kippur War, 1973, the South Mollocan Dutch Siege, 1975, the overthrow of Idi Amin, Uganda, 1978-79, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, 1979, the Iranian Embassy siege 1980, for which he won Reporter of the Year, the Falklands War from start to finish with 3 Para, 1982, awarded the South Atlantic Medal with Rosette, the Brighton Bombings, Conservative Party Conference 1984, the Libyan Embassy Siege, WPC Yvonne Fletcher, 1984, the hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 648, Malta, 1985,  the kidnapping and murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne, 2000 and the list goes on.

In 1981 he ran the New York office for six weeks, covering Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park, the folk-rock duo reunited for a free concert on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park after years of falling out, the Rollings Stones Tour of America, chased Oliver Reed, banned from drinking in New England for a well deserved and won interview and hunted down Ronnie Biggs, known for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, to Rio, Brazil.

He lunched with Sophia Loren and her husband Carlo Ponti. Dad had always described Sophia Loren as a “leaving home” woman and was quite in awe of her and for once he was lost for words. She asked him, “Bob, shouldn’t you be asking me some questions?”

He drove unaccredited through the borders of Afghanistan with photographer Steve Wood who was a little chilly. “Sorry Bob,” Dad said recalling Steve, “thought this was a hot country.” He then donated his brown, four-ply jumper that Mum had lovingly knitted him much to her irritation! During this time, Steve casually walked over to the Russian army, tanks skulking beneath trees and had a word.
“What are you doing?” Dad asked Steve.
“Oh, just asked them if they wouldn’t mind moving their tanks so I could go to F4 for a bit of depth of field Bob.” And they did.

Being a reporter was always about getting the truth told accurately but it was also importantly about beating the opposition. In March 1987, The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized moments after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, killing 193 passengers and crew. Dad was manning the news desk and the Daily Express beat the rest of the British Press hollow.

Getting one over the opposition was always the name of the game, especially when they did it all by themselves. Peter Fitzroy Godber was Kowloon’s Deputy District Commissioner of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force and was caught in a bribery scandal after his retirement in 1973. He fled Hong Kong to England and was photographed on arrival by the press. Dad was right in the thick of it. The Daily Mail splashed a picture in the paper and captioned it ‘Peter Godber and one of his minders’. The minder was not in fact a minder at all. It was Bob McGowan, reporter of the Daily Express. In the second edition of the Mail that day, Dad’s face had been cropped out. He was muchly amused by this.

Some stories for Dad set deep within him eternally.

Tormented by memories of the Falklands War, Dad was most affected and saddened by the deaths of soldiers he had sat in the trenches with and who had become brothers and friends. On his return he wrote ‘Don’t Cry for Me Sergeant Major’ with Jeremy Hands ITN, a true soldier's account of how war really was. The terror and the humour of soldiers and of the comraderie that never left his thoughts.

His coverage of the Sarah Payne kidnapping and murder left him cold, deep in thought and with so much sympathy that it was as if it had happened to his own family. He was a good man.

Dad’s hardest battle was in the last 3 months with cancer. Never have I seen a man more brave, more stoical, more concerned with everyone else’s welfare than his own. My mother had breast cancer 20 years ago, fought and beat it. Every few months after Dad would insist on her being checked. Virtually crippled by the steroids and radiotherapy treatment for his brain tumours and carrying an untreated golf ball tumour in his lung he insisted that she be checked again.

He could barely walk and was elated with the news that she was still clear.

His last three weeks were tormentuous weeks for us as he lay in intensive care, wonderfully cared for by Dominique, Dr Mira and all the doctors and nurses at the Clinica Benidorm in Spain. Not once did he complain. Not once did he cry. All he did was thank the nurses and doctors. He was polite. He made jokes. He had such impeccable grace.

The pain of losing Dad is deeper than the Ganges cutting through the Himalayas. My Mum describes her pain of losing Dad as an abyss. They were deeply in love, from the minute they laid eyes on each other to the minute they closed them. Their love was a love that everyone one of us searches for in life, that everyone one of us wishes we could have. A love built on caring, laughter and intellect.

But Dad wouldn’t want her pain to be an abyss.

Instead he would want her to realise that that abyss is actually the immense, immeasurable love they had and have for each other and that will never, ever fade.

To quote Dad’s friend and fellow reporter, Mike O’Flaherty,
“Bob was the greatest. He was brave and resolute and totally unselfish. A reporter without parallel.

“When Bob heard I was ill with a heart problem, he was more concerned about my condition and recovery than his own illness. When I became depressed because of my problem. Bob urged me to fight and beat it as he was doing with his cancer.  It was me he was worried about, not himself.
This is the measure of the man.”

My Dad would say that these words and all of those which have come flooding in during and after his fight with cancer was actually the measure of the great men he worked with. He was truly a champion among champions.

His friends from the Press and the Paras were undoubtedly Brothers in Arms.

Mum, Doug and I love him, are proud of him and he will live in our hearts and voices forever more.

We love you Dad.


  1. It's a beautiful piece. A lovely tribute. You have clearly inherited his skill with words. I send you a hug of support in light of his sad departure. I hope he lingers in many hearts forever. I feel pretty confident they he will. XXX

  2. Absolutely beautiful Emma, what a tribute, and truly deserved. I wish I had been privileged enough to have met him in person. However, I'm sure I will experience parts of his personality through you when we do eventually meet.

  3. Glad that some people understand and appreciate that I wrote this for my father and would appreciate more that people do not take my tribute to my father, sub it and then call it their own.

    Please have some respect. I am devastated at the loss of my father who was also my best friend. It isn't a writing competition.

    Sounds angry. I am angry. I wrote it for my Dad and no one else.

    There is no compromise in this situation.

    Thank you,

    Emma, Bob McGowan's daughter who is extremely like him and proud of it.

  4. Dear Emma,

    Brian and I were very sorry to hear of your father's passing. We send our love to you, Pauline and Douglas.

    Thinking of you,
    Brian and Valerie Clare

  5. I only learned of Bob McGowan's passing on the 06 April 2012, thirty years to the day my ship RFA SIR LANCELOT sailed from the UK for the Falklands. Bob McGowan sailed South on RFA SIR LANCELOT and I quickly warmed to him as a shipmate, comrade and friend. Bob was a brave man with a big personality to match his size and he invariably lit up a room by his presence. I am saddened by his death and extend my sympathies to you and your family.

    Robert 'Rab' McKillop
    Purser RFA SIR LANCELOT 1982

  6. Remembrance is a golden chain
    Death tries to break,
    but all in vain.
    To have, to love, and then to part
    Is the greatest sorrow of one’s heart.
    The years may wipe out many things
    But some they wipe out never.
    Like memories of those happy times
    When we were all together.

    Happy Father's Day Dad, I miss you x

  7. so very sorry Emma, have just read this, found by accident and been so moved hope you and your mum and brother are getting throuh it all. xxxxxxx

  8. Sending sincere belated condolences as I too have only just found out about Mr.McGowan's passing. Am rereading Don't cry again and thought I'd "Google" the authors.