The following presentation was made during the Jackson Yacht Club’s Mardi Gras party at which John McGowan was honored. The club unveiled plans for the John McGowan Sailing Center.
I first met John David, Joe and Suzy McGowan in the summer of 1969 when my family moved from New Orleans to Jackson. We met right here at the Jackson Yacht Club during sailing camp. For me their friendship was heaven sent. I soon adopted myself into their family and refused to let them chase me off.
Mr. McGowan, as I still call him, has always been a teacher in every aspect of his life. It is more than fitting for the new Jackson Yacht Club Junior Sailing Center to be named in his honor. He never passes up a chance to teach. When he drove his children and their friends in his pickup truck, he had a captive audience. I remember hearing John or Joe say, “Oh God, Daddy is going to give us a lecture.” Many of the lectures were repeated over and over throughout the years depending on their importance. Often when you asked a question you would receive an elbow in the ribs by one of his sons because they knew you were going to get him going. The lectures covered every subject known to mankind. Some people know a little bit about a lot of things. I can honestly say that John McGowan knows a whole lot about a lot of things. He has always been willing to spend an hour or two with a roughneck or rig-hand in the oilfield discussing point load on drill bits or how to prevent cyclic loading failures or maybe the hydraulic and horsepower requirements to pump 4,000 barrels of saltwater along with a few barrels of oil out of a well, skim the oil off, and then put the water back into the ground on a vacuum. He can often break science down into a form that his attentive listener understands, although occasionally the response is a blank stare.
Regardless of comprehension, the student is always honored to have our leader give him a lesson in physics. Pretty much any one who has spent any time at all with Mr. McGowan has been privileged to learn a thing or two from him. Some of us have learned a lot from him.
Another group that he has taught are the hydrologists from the Corps in Vicksburg, along with our state and local politicians. These two groups were probably his least cooperative students. Engineers with Ph.D.s have a hard time being schooled on river hydraulics and flood control by an oil man.
When we were young, he would pile our sailboats onto a multi-level trailer along with his own boat and we would go all over the country racing against the best sailors in the world. Pickup trucks had one bench seat back in the day, and John, Joe, and Suzy had a lot of friends so we would all pile in the bed of his truck. I imagine that it was quite a sight. Our hotel room was generally a 12-man tent. The experience was priceless. He has always been willing to take a new crew on his boat, often taking four or five people on a three-man boat. Many have sailed with him for months or years finally to compete against him in their own boat.
One of the keys to John McGowan’s success in sailboat racing and in business is that he has never accepted the status quo of the industry or the sport. He often comes up with a completely different methodology. There is not a competitor at our club who doesn’t know how to steer a boat, as John McGowan taught us, with deliberate moves instead of constantly working the tiller which can cause unnecessary drag with your rudder. He has shown us the fastest angles to sail downwind depending on the wind speed. He shared with us how to determine if a puff was going to be a knock or a lift by the direction it is moving. There is a certain sound that the water makes as your bow moves through it when you are in the groove. “You hear that,” he would say, “that’s fast.” He does go fast. I imagine that if we had a record of every race that has been sailed at the Jackson Yacht Club since its inception, John McGowan would have won far more races than anyone else has.
When Mr. McGowan teaches you to sail or anything else for that matter, he also teaches you about life. He teaches you about physics. He teaches you about the courts and about government. As his daughter Suzy will tell you, an unjustified protest by a race committee in Dallas can be turned into a lecture about the faults with our modern judicial system. A road trip through the Tennessee mountains on the way to race in Chattanooga may become a lesson about the industrial might of our country and the necessity of those smokestacks that his nephew might have complained about.
Mr. McGowan doesn’t anger easily, almost never on the racecourse. I really can’t remember him ever raising hell at his crew as the rest of us do. Maybe this is one of the reasons we all listen to him. He mentioned recently that he even gets to tell us what we did wrong when we’ve beaten him in the race.
As you all can attest to, once you have known John McGowan, you will never look at the world around you in the same way.
Thank you, Mr. McGowan for enriching all of our lives.