Look At Our Facebook Page Look At Our Twitter Page Buy Our Books On Amazon Buy Our Books On Our Paypal Shop

Robert McGowan's Obituary
By Steve Hussy

Robert McGowan NAM A Long Perambulation SouthMainStories Return to MurderSlim.com


Robert McGowan died on Thursday, 15th November. As the most important event of 2012, it was important to make it the last post of the year on MurderSlim.com.

I miss Rob tremendously. So I'd like to tell you some things about him.

You probably know Rob as a writer. And he was both a prodigious and talented one, appearing in many literary journals across the world. They drew on his experiences of life... primarily art and war.

Rob was a Vietnam veteran. His time there left Rob with an exposure to injustices, explosions and a proximity to death that would give him night terrors for decades. His collection - NAM - was the end point of Rob resolving his past, a process started 15 years earlier with conversations with his wife, Peggy McGowan, who helped stop the bad dreams.

Vietnam did eventually kill Rob, just many years later. His cancer was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the notorious chemical compound dumped on the Vietnamese during the conflict. As Rob explains in this interview with MSP, he developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma in early 2012 and went through chemotherapy and then radiation therapy. The tumour stubbornly refused to stop growing, and instead spread further.

I had a long conversation with Rob on the phone a few months ago. He had just started another bout of chemotherapy, the "rough-tough" phase as he put it. Both Rob, despite being in his hospital bed, and Peggy were extraordinarily charming. Peggy McGowan beat cancer herself in 2011 and, as with Rob, had endured many vile symptoms. Anyone who thinks illness comes neatly is an idiot.

The Peg and The Rob supported each other to the hilt. And I know Rob's main concern about his death was leaving Peggy. We live in a world where most married couples shouldn't be in the same room, let alone the same lives. Instead, Rob and Peggy were a perfect fit, just one found later in life.

Both were artists in their own fields. Peggy is a Primetime Emmy-award winning camerawoman, the first female to win that award. Rob, as well as being a writer, was a celebrated ceramicist, photographer and painter. His life's work is remembered in the McGowan Collection in the Memphis Public Library, and he also has works in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Just before his death, the Memphis area honoured him with a couple of awards as both a visionary artist and a guy who helped renovate the dilapidated area of "South Main." Much like Soho in New York, South Main was transformed from a shithole into a centre for the arts. It's not hard to see how Rob helped that happen. He was very charming and stubbornly persistent.

Being published in THE SAVAGE KICK amused and surprised Rob. He talked about how this little British magazine was wholly different from the prestigious art and literary journals that published his work. He was very polite about it, but NAM being published on "Meridian Star Press" was a result of Rob worrying about the connotations of "Murder Slim Press." He was right, of course.

In many ways, though, Rob was different from the vision you might have of an artist. He could swear with the best of them, and had a love for cutting through bullshit. He was an honest man, which is high praise. I know, leading up to his death, Rob wouldn't have left an unspoken word to those he loved. And he got the chance to kick the shit out of some guns too... destroying the various firearms he'd been given over his life but had never once wanted to shoot.

As a fellow atheist, Rob would laugh at the thought of himself in some afterlife. So it's trite to imagine him floating around in happiness. As he wrote in A LONG AND INDETERMINATE PERAMBULATION - his sadly prescient novella on life and death - the best you can hope for is some kind of temporary immortality.

Rob's primary concern about dying was Peggy, by a mile. His secondary concern was that his work live after him. It will, of course, at least temporarily. SOUTH MAIN STORIES will be out soon, and Shanti Arts are putting out his collection HAPPY AGAIN AT LAST. And there is a great deal more. I have a wide range of novels, novellas, short stories and artwork by Rob McGowan. Other people have much, much more. We'll be working with Peggy McGowan to try and find public homes for all of them.

I last spoke to Rob on the Tuesday before his death. We were still discussing his books and I'd just sent out his first copy of SOUTH MAIN STORIES. He was on a morphine drip and had been told they were stopping his treatment. He, of course, praised Peggy's presence and help. I was due to speak to him on the phone Saturday afternoon, and he'd been told he had two or three months left. It was two days.

The nature of being an editor is that you deal with writers often. I've been lucky in that all of the writers I've closely worked with have become friends. Rob was certainly that. Over our three years of friendship, we exchanged well over 1000 emails... more often about life than writing.

Yes, the memory of Rob will live on. And so will his artistic legacy. Hopefully for as long as possible.

But what about all the stuff Rob still had to say? Artistically, in clay, in photos, in art, in words? And, personally, as a friend, family member and husband? 65 years old is no fucking age to die, especially to a clean-living pacifist unfortunate enough to be exposed to poison 40 years ago.

All that is left is a temporary immortality that will hopefully last longer than Rob could have imagined.

N.B. Robert's wife, Peggy, died in a car accident in 2013, just one year after Robert's death. To have two wonderful people taken in two horrific ways is an indication of the absurdity and cruelty of life and death. Rest well, my friends.