YORK, Maine — Family and friends are mourning the loss of Paul McGowan, 67, who died Sunday at his Cape Neddick home.
McGowan died by suicide, his family announced in his obituary. They said he had battled with depression, which grew worse after the death of his wife.
“Paul was married for 33 years to the love of his life, Shirley Ann Huckins McGowan, who died of cancer in 2003,” according to his obituary. “Her passing broke his heart in a way that in the end could not be reconciled.”
McGowan is being remembered as a man who cared passionately about the environment and a sustainable world, and who worked toward these goals during two years as a state representative in Augusta and years prior to that serving on local committees.
Ill health recently forced McGowan to make a decision against running for a second term, a choice with which he struggled, according to friend and campaign Treasurer Bob Brisebois of York.
“He had such a commitment; not being able to run again was difficult,” Brisebois said. “What really motivated him was sustainability and who it would affect, his children and grandchildren. It was the idea of leaving a better world to his grandchildren.”
McGowan spoke of his struggle with health issues and his decision to step down in a letter to the secretary of state published July 16 in the Portsmouth Herald.
“I’ve had some medical challenges for a while now, and over the past six to eight weeks, there have been some setbacks,” McGowan said.
He said even he didn’t know the precise nature of his ailments that had caused increased mobility problems. He was walking with a cane and had difficulty driving, he said.
“I am really sorry I have had to make this decision. It’s been a real struggle in my mind,” he said. “But there’s some uncertainty about what this [medical condition] is, and I wondered about whether I can do the job.”
McGowan was serving his first term in the Legislature representing the District 3 towns of Ogunquit and parts of Kittery, Wells and York, including the village of Cape Neddick, where he lived. He served on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
“Paul had all these great ideas. After he was elected, he had health problems. … I think he could have put a lot more energy [into his legislative work] if he were healthier; unfortunately, he wasn’t,” Brisebois said.
McGowan died at his house Sunday night, according to York Police, who responded to the River Road home shortly after 8 p.m.
“So many of us are saddened by this and shocked,” Brisebois said. “We’re terribly saddened by his loss.”
“Paul has just been a wonderful father, brother, uncle, community member,” said McGowan’s brother, Bob McGowan. “He was such an important person in our lives. It’s such a tragic incident and we will miss him.”
Earlier this month, the York Democratic Town Committee selected Seacoast Democrats Executive Director Lydia Blume to run for Paul McGowan’s District 3 seat.
“Paul was a Seacoast Democrat in the truest sense,” Blume said by e-mail. “He was our close friend, and we will miss him and his statesmanship greatly.”
Members of the Democratic Party, including U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, marked McGowan’s 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 said in the statement. “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.”
Last year, McGowan saw his signature cancer study legislation passed into law.
“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.”
“I am saddened by the death of Rep. McGowan. Throughout his life, he served his community and his country — in the Air Force, in public education and in the Legislature,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a prepared statement. “He clearly cared deeply about his constituents and although he experienced personal tragedy in his own life, he was able to turn that and the experiences of his constituents into good public policy.”
This year, McGowan was chairman of a special state commission to study cancer in Maine. The task at hand was immensely personal to McGowan, who had lost his mother-in-law, wife and other friends and family members to the disease.
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.
He asked McGowan if he would focus on the disease if elected to the Legislature.
McGowan said at the time he learned Maine had one of the highest cancer rates in the country.
In December, McGowan’s commission released its final report and recommendations, including renewed efforts to fight obesity, smoking and poor nutrition.
Locally, McGowan served on the York Energy Efficiency Committee and the Cape Neddick River Association, working on the latter to help find ways to clean up the river.
“He was a great supporter of the Cape Neddick River Association and will be missed,” said Linda Scotland, spokeswoman for the group. “He was sensitive and very savvy on environmental issues.”
During a 2012 debate in York between local candidates for state office, McGowan was most vocal on promoting sustainable energy as a prospective boom to the state’s economy.
“If we want a healthy economy, we need to create energy — wind, solar, tidal … pellet fuel,” McGowan said during the debate. “There are thousands of jobs waiting by Maine becoming energy independent.”
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 at his own consulting business.
He is survived by his brother, sister, son, daughter and six grandchildren.
Visiting hours will be noon-2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1 at Bibber Memorial Chapel, 111 Chapel Road, in Wells. A Memorial Service will be 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2 at Ogunquit Baptist Church, Shore Road, in Ogunquit. A private burial will be at a later date.
Donations in McGowan’s name can be made to The American Cancer Society, One Bowdoin Mill Island, Suite 300, Topsham, ME 04086; or National Alliance on Mental Illness, 3803 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, 22203.
The York Weekly Editor Laura Dolce contributed to this story.