Tonight, a guest blog, and the blogger is Battalion Chief (ret) Donald Howell. Although Chief Howell and I share long service at Howard County Fire & Rescue, we never served together as members. He retired a year before I began working there. We became co-workers, and then friends, while he was Executive Director of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF). He hired me to be his IT Consultant back in 2001.
This past Friday, we lost a dear friend, another retired firefighter who also served with ICISF. His name was Don Gow, and he was one of the dearest, most loyal, most giving souls I have ever encountered. But I couldn’t memorialize him half as well as Chief Howell did in this wonderful essay, so I asked permission to share it here.*
Take it away, Chief Howell.
I just wanted to let you know I lost a good friend of mine today, Don Gow.
Don loved his God, his Country and his family (Jean, Sissy and Donnie). The rest of us fit in somewhere behind those three, and probably even behind his love for his dogs, Duncan and Pixie.
Don, in the truest sense of the word, was a man’s man.
He exemplified the words Honor, Courage, Commitment..
and “Always Faithful”...
Fiercely loyal, truthful, and a man of his word are several more traits that made up his character. A word of caution however: you never wanted to ask Mr. Don a question if didn’t want to hear the answer, and a quite colorful answer at times, I might add.
He had distinguished career with the United States Marine Corps. I asked him several times, what had he done and where had he gone in service to his country. As he slowly started to answer, he would reach for his switchblade and say, “I can tell ya, but I’m gonna have to neutralize ya.” Needless to say, I gave up on that line of questioning.
For over 30 years he served with the Baltimore City Fire Department. I would spend endless hours listening to him talk about “Life in a big city far department.” Silly me, I asked him one time, had he ever been injured in the line of duty? Well, let me tell ya, after he recited five pages of injuries and incidents that had happened to him, I wondered that he had even lived to retire. Rumor had it that he had a frequent flier room named after him at Shock Trauma. (Contact me and I can send you his list.)
His wife Jean would take it in stride when she received those late-night phone calls, advising of another Firefighter Gow mishap. She finally got it down to a science, merely asking the caller, “Just tell me what hospital he’s in this time.”
ICISF was most fortunate to have Mr. Don come on board, dedicating himself to the organization for over a decade. The mission of assisting those emergency services workers–and those of many other disciplines as well–in their time of need was tailor-made for the man with a heart the size of his. For it was his giving of himself so completely, to ease the pain and the anguish, that endeared him to those he interacted with. It made him a valuable asset to ICISF. He was extremely knowledgeable of CISM resources and experts throughout the field, as well as being the office’s AV and Logistical guru.
(CISM is Critical Incident Stress Management–the process of counseling and assisting those emergency service workers who have survived a stressful or tragic experience–SHW)
He was particularly proud of the property he had deeded to him in Ireland, being of Irish heritage himself.
A special passion he shared was during the Christmas Holiday season. He would transform into S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S along with Ms. Jean as Ms. C-L-A-U-S. (The reason I spelled out those words was just in case any children might read this.) I was never quite sure who got the most enjoyment during those times, the children or Mr. Don. Maybe it’s both, for Mr. Don was truly a “kid at heart.”
Another memory, although not a pleasant one, was riding in a car when he was driving. Two times come to mind, the first was when he stopped abruptly in the middle of the road for a “red light” that just didn’t exist. The other time was when he agreed to take my wife Ann and me to the train station for a trip. BIG MISTAKE. He took us through parts of Baltimore that I didn’t know existed, communicating with the locals along the way with his colorful and explicit language, ridiculing every other driver for the crazy and inconsiderate way they drove.
By the time we reached the train station, I was miserably car sick, and Duncan the terrier was shaking uncontrollably in the back seat on Ann’s lap. As Ann got out of the car, Duncan grabbed her sleeve and tried to pull her back in. Ann thought that he was attempting to mouth, “Please don’t leave me with this crazy man.”
One of Don’s greatest passions was history, particularly of the Civil War, and specifically Gettysburg. Don, our friend Ken Bohn and I would talk for hours about those “hallowed grounds“ and those brave individuals who fought and lost their lives for their beliefs.
He made annual trips to Gettysburg to learn more about its history, staying in a period hotel near the center of town that reputedly had spirits roaming the halls. He had many encounters with the spirits both in the hotel and on the battlefield. He was quite serious about those visions, and I for one are not going to doubt him.
When I received word this morning that he had passed earlier today, my first reaction was, “It can’t be, let’s just give it another 24 hours.” For you see, Don had cheated death many times before. He and I talked about that on several occasions as he wondered why he had been spared so many times, asked to stay on earth a little longer.
I like to think it was so he could ease the pain of a few more souls and reach out to be just one more person’s friend.
While I am saddened by Mr. Don’s passing, that sadness wouldn’t begin to compare to how I would feel if I never had the privilege to know the man and not have been able to call him my friend.
So his greatest gift to me, was allowing me to call him FRIEND.
If any of you ever make it up to Gettysburg, take that stroll through the battlefields and around some of the historic building downtown, and if you have a sense that that you are being guided in a particular direction, maybe, just maybe, it might be Mr. Don reaching out yet again to you, one of his many friends, to lend his helping hand.
Thank you Mr. Don, in my heart you shall remain forever.
A final note from Steve–Jean reports that Don Gow’s last words were “You can’t make this stuff up!” His last words to me were a little less philosophical. He simply emailed to say, “Love you, pal.” I’ll cherish those words, and his memory, forever.
* A condensed version of this piece also appeared on the ICISF website at www.icisf.org.