AUGUSTA, Maine — Paul McGowan, a state representative who saw his signature cancer study legislation passed into law last year, died unexpectedly at his home on Sunday.
The 67-year-old Cape Neddick resident recently had announced that he would not be seeking re-election because of increasingly worrisome health trouble, the exact nature of which was unknown even to him, according to a July 15 report by the New Hampshire-based SeacoastOnline website.
“I am really sorry I have had to make this decision. It’s been a real struggle in my mind,” McGowan wrote in a letter to the secretary of state, quoted by the website. “But there’s some uncertainty about what this [medical condition] is, and I wondered about whether I can do the job.”
McGowan was predeceased by his wife, Shirley, in 2002, and is survived by several children and grandchildren. His family has requested not to be contacted by media at this time, according to a news release from state Democratic leaders.
Members of McGowan’s Democratic Party, including U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, marked his passing in a series of written statements Monday.
“I am deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden passing of State Rep. Paul McGowan. My heart and prayers go out to his friends, family and loved ones,” Michaud wrote. “I was fortunate to have gotten to know Paul during his time representing the people of York in the Maine Legislature. He was a strong leader who cared deeply about his family, his community and this state. He was a passionate advocate for increased access to health care and his commitment to that has left Maine a better place.”
McGowan was serving his first term in the Legislature, representing the towns of Ogunquit and parts of Kittery, Wells and York, including the village of Cape Neddick. He served on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
According to his biography on the Maine House Democrats’ website, McGowan was a former Air Force officer who also had worked in public education, at a Fortune 100 computer firm and his own consulting business.
This year, he also was chairman of a special state commission to study cancer in Maine. The task at hand was immensely personal to McGowan, who told the BDN in November that he had lost his mother-in-law, wife and other friends and family members to the disease.
Then, while knocking on doors during his 2012 campaign, he was greeted at one home by an elderly couple. The man told McGowan that his 4-year-old grandson recently had been diagnosed with pediatric cancer. The distraught grandfather told McGowan that he had asked lawmakers to look into Maine’s efforts to fight cancer and had little luck.
So he asked McGowan if he’d focus on the disease if elected to the Legislature.
“So I made it my task to make some phone calls and investigate that,” McGowan said Thursday. “In that process was the first time I learned that Maine had one of the highest cancer rates in the country. … This is the No. 1 cause of death in Maine, and we can do something about it.”
In December, McGowan’s commission released its final report and recommendations, including renewed efforts to fight obesity, smoking and poor nutrition, which together reportedly cause 60 percent of cancer cases in the state.
McGowan’s colleagues in the Legislature lauded his dedication to his constituents and sense of public service.
“For those of us who had the honor to serve with Paul, he will be remembered for his unwavering passion and conviction,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “He was a strong and clear voice for his constituents and the people of Maine. His advocacy on behalf of cancer prevention and health care truly made a difference in our state. He will be deeply missed by so many.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.