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February 26, 2020

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Rich Gowell Eulogy

 

By his brother,

Ben Gowell

 

I loved Rich very much. He was not only my brother, but one of my closest friends. He was a trusted confidant, and someone I knew I could always share anything with. I knew he had my back and he knew I had his.

Being 12 years older than me, my memories of my brother are really split into 2 different parts - my elementary years, and my adult years.

During my early years in elementary school, my brother toughened me up by wrestling around with me and ‘rough-housing’. There were even a few times where he would stuff me in a huge trash bag, take me out to the garbage bin, and close the lid.

Through all of those times of ‘brotherly affection’, I always felt truly loved. I knew that I had a strong older brother who was watching over me, who would protect me, and would make sure that I was safe.

And strong he was. I vividly remember going to watch him at his body-building competitions. He was disciplined, committed, and he shined so brightly as an athlete and a competitor. There was nothing more exhilarating than going to see Rich compete at those events. He excelled, and in 1985 won the Mr. Teen Kalamazoo with a clean sweep - 1st place in all categories: Arms, legs, abs, back, chest - everything! I know, because I watched the VHS tape of the event back likely 100+ times. I carefully mimicked every move he made. I wanted to be just like him. I still remember every single move to this day.

Rich wasn’t just strong and muscular, he was an artist. He would construct his posing routines moment by moment, and weave them together in front of a backdrop of beautiful pieces of moving orchestral music. In a time when everyone was using popular music from the 80’s for energy and appeal, his STOOD OUT. They were so different than the rest in the best possible way! He was chasing dreams, taking risks, and going after a vision that was all his own and I loved him for it. It was so rock n’ roll! Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copeland is a piece that still rings in my head to this day. It was not just a show of brute strength, but a holistic work of art. A tender, moving masterpiece that distinguished itself from all the rest. You could see his creative spirit in it so clearly.

As I began to compete in sports myself, I was so proud just to be able to put my small trophies and medals next to my brother’s gigantic collection that he had amassed through those years. His would always be taller than mine on that shelf, and that’s really the way I always wanted it to be. I was so proud of my brother’s achievements.

He was successful for sure, but the deepest imprint he left on me from those years weren’t the posing moves or the muscles. It wasn’t the trophies or medals. It was his character and integrity that left the largest footprint. In those early years, he was winning so many of the awards but as time went on, something was changing with the sport. Performance-enhancing steroid use was becoming more and more common and to compete at the highest levels, it became very apparent that steroid use was the only viable way to compete with the sheer muscle mass of the other competitors. My brother declined, and began to make his way out of the sport rather than give into the pressure. I’m sure it must have been crushing for him at the time, and I’m sure he likely felt very lonely. But in this, he was a true leader, and it is a hallmark of his character that will forever stay with me and challenge me.

——-

During my 4th-6th grade years I was homeschooled, and I remember Rich helping to teach me math and science. I was learning things by the books, but I remember more, learning things from conversations. He took me on a ‘field trip’ to Chicago where we went to the Shedd Aquarium (Biology), the Adler Planetarium (Astronomy), and the Museum of Science and Industry. He also took me to see the movie Terminator 2 on that same trip, which I’m sure was the original spark for my ongoing love of science-fiction. He even took a Nintendo game one day and turned it into a lesson to make it fun for me. When I returned to private school in the 7th grade, I remember it was nearly a year or so before I learned anything new that my brother hadn’t already taught me.

Rich’s mind and intelligence were second to none. He was a life-long learner and such a committed student. I often took great pride in telling people that Rich was the most brilliant person I’d ever known. That statement holds true to this day. From philosophy to world history. From geography, science, astronomy, and mathematics, the list truly goes on and on. He was such a force! His command of such a great breadth of information and knowledge was unparalleled in any other individual I have ever known. I looked up to him so much for it. His posture in never being prideful, but always committing himself to being a life-long learner, was inspiring. He modeled a life of curiosity, determination, and humility that challenges me still.

——-

One of my earliest memories, and my first memory of discovering music, was sitting in his bedroom together downstairs. CDs had just come out, and he had a case full of them that I can still picture in my mind. Fleetwood Mac - Rumors, Journey’s Greatest Hits, Asia - Then and Now, Rush - Chronicles (double disc set), Whitesnake, Lynard Skynard - Skynard’s Innards, Little River Band, Peter Gabriel - So. I didn’t have to think hard at all to remember these album covers etched in my mind at an early age. We would listen to music for hours, sitting on his bed together. When he was gone, I would steal away to his room, open those jewel cases, and explore the albums further on my own. It was the first time that I can remember the power of music hitting me in such a profound and moving way. I can still hear those melodies in my head. I can still hear those guitars... those keyboards. I think it was a moment for me at a very early age that, along with my grandmother’s piano playing every Sunday after church, inspired me towards diving deeper into the vast and powerful ocean that is the gift of music. I think it was probably the initial seed that would years later grow into me pursuing this passion and developing my own love for the craft.

My first memory of picking up an electric guitar was in 7th grade when I found Rich’s black Peavy Predator out in our garage. I can picture it in my mind so clearly. Black body with a black pick guard. Maple neck with a maple fingerboard and a pointy headstock. And the most important thing - 2 blazing hot humbucker pickups to intensify those sound waves and funnel them into an amplifier that would project them to the whole-wide-world!

I think he had bought it hoping to play more. He was left-handed in everything he did, but had started learning to play a right-handed guitar. I had never thought about this, but as I write it, I realize I wouldn’t have picked it up if it were strung for a lefty. That makes me smile. I did pick that guitar up, and began to learn Metallica riffs and Green Day power chords. I learned Pearl Jam songs, Nirvana songs, Smashing Pumpkins, Spin Doctors, Stone Temple Pilots, Counting Crows, The Gin Blossoms, Live, Soundgarden - basically everything the early 90’s had to offer.

I painted that guitar a terrible dark green with standard latex house paint and slapped stickers all over it. The amp was a Crate G-10, also my brother’s. It was very simple, but it had built-in distortion on it. That sealed the deal for me and I was hooked.

It was that initial set-up that carried me through my first full year of learning the electric guitar. He graciously let me use those tools of his, cheering me on along the way. He even taught me a few of the first chords I ever learned.

Rich had a profound influence on the genesis of my musical journey. Probably far more than he or I ever realized. I am grateful for that.

——-

Over the years, our relationship evolved. He would always be my older brother, but we began to form more of a peer-to-peer relationship. We were able to share and reason together on a more level playing field. And over time, a deep friendship began to take root. Through our adult years, Rich truly became one of my closest friends. His quick wit was so undeniable, his sense of humor so charming. He kept us all laughing. And as we laughed, we contemplated what he had just said and how clever it really was. Our brains had to work so quickly just to try and keep up. And it was fun to try! It was like we were along for a thrill ride and couldn’t wait to see where the next turn would take us.

But with all of these formidable gifts and abilities at his command, Rich was not self-centered. He well could have been. He had every earthly reason, with how broad and potent his abilities were, to be egotistical. But he was not. He was the antithesis of those things. Rich was a listener and a lover of people. He was as unselfish a person as I have ever known.

And in this, my brother showed me Jesus.

We have had many conversations about God and faith through the years. They are conversations that we have shared in a sacred space together. A space that invited spirit and science to collide. A safe haven that laid waste to pretense and posturing, and brought us both bare before the mystery of the unknown and the unknowable. A deep bond and affection formed over the course of these conversations. No easy answers, no tangible evidence - only stories shared from an earnest journey of faith, hope, and love. Rich’s pursuit of truth was not based on arrogance, but a deep desire to be a man of honesty and integrity. What is truth? What can we truly know about anything? About the world, the cosmos, and inevitably, the afterlife? It is indeed a profound mystery. But not a mystery that leaves us in despair.

All the excesses burned away by these refining fires, we had many conversations about the teachings of Jesus and how they inspired us; how we wanted to be more like him.

In the truest, most pure sense, Rich was a follower of Jesus Christ. He was someone who didn’t just talk about it, but walked out what it looked like to live like Jesus.

When I think of the life Rich lived, I think of Matthew chapter 6, and I always have. It has been the most influential passage of scripture in my own life personally, and Rich MODELED it with no strategy in mind. It’s like the words jumped off the page through the years as I saw him live them out - giving to classmates of mine financially and anonymously to help fund missions trips that they could not otherwise afford to go on. Praying in the secret place, not to be recognized by others, but to petition God for grace, mercy, and wisdom, behind closed doors. Rich was not putting on a show, he was seeking eagerly and loving unconditionally, with no self-serving motivation.

Rich showed us all the heart of God in this.

——-

He loved his family so deeply. He fought for them with every breath. His wife Petrushka, son Phillip, and daughter Vivian were so close to his heart. All the way to the very end he loved them with deep commitment, intense passion, and a fierce protector instinct that only a parent can know.

In his later years, Rich entered into a battle he did not seek out or provoke. He did nothing to deserve it. It was an intense battle of the mind, the depths of which none of us will every truly know or be able to identify with. Rich was a warrior, fighting long and hard over the course of years, and indeed, to his very last breath. Though this battle claimed his life here on earth, his warrior spirit lives on. It is the true legacy he leaves for those of us who remain. It is the true spirit I believe he continues to dwell in, in the presence of the Almighty God and Father of all. His creator who formed him in his mother’s womb and breathed the breath of life into him.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38)

I love you my brother, and I will see you again.

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