Matthew McGowan ’49

The Reverend Doctor (Colonel) Matthew McGowan, 97, of Gainesville, Georgia (formerly of Chattanooga, Tennessee) passed away June 14, 2023 at Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. A private service for the family will be held on Saturday, June 24 at 10:30 a.m. at the Columbarium Chapel at First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville. A Memorial Service will follow at 2 p.m. in the sanctuary with the Revs. Lee Koontz, Charles McGowan, Rebecca McGowan Spooner and Kennedy McGowan officiating. The family will receive friends following the service in Swetenburg Hall (Fellowship Hall).

Born September 29, 1925, in Pitt County, Greenville, North Carolina, he was the son of the late Lonnie and Eva McGowan. He was the 3rd of 7 children. Following high school, he served in the Marine Corps in Pearl Harbor during World War II. His brother, Jesse, was killed in action in the Battle of the Bulge. He was 19. While serving during the War and following his brother’s death, he felt called to Christian ministry. He took classes to prepare for college while in the Marine Corps and entered Davidson College on the G.I. bill, graduating in 1948 with a double major in Philosophy and Bible. The following summer he took classes at Wheaton College in Bible and Christian Ethics. He went on to receive his Master of Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. While in seminary, he and his roommate Kennedy Smart would preach in the mill villages in the Gainesville area. He was ordained by Athens Presbytery on June 1, 1952, and was the installed pastor at the Homer, Maysville and Chestnut Mountain congregations. The Chestnut Mountain Church was elected Rural Church of the year in the Southeastern United States.

In 1955, he moved to Rocky Mount, North Carolina to serve Second Presbyterian where he led the congregation to build a new education building and doubled the membership in 5 years. In 1960, he began serving Overbrook Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, where in 6 years a new addition was constructed, and the membership doubled. He then moved to Canal Street Presbyterian Church, New Orleans, Louisiana, and on to Central Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee. He pastored in Chattanooga for 13 years, doubled the membership, started an inner-city neighborhood program and orchestrated the establishment of an apartment complex for the elderly, John Calvin Apartments. In 1983, he became the Executive Director of Covenant Fellowship of Presbyterians (Presbyterian for Renewal) and retired in 1989. In retirement he was the interim pastor, with Dr. John Anderson, at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas, and became a Parish Associate at First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville in 1991. He was a champion for civil rights and fought for the rights of the underserved.

During his ministry, he served on the Executive Boards of his denomination (Presbyterian Church U.S. and later the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.), including as Chair of the Board of International Missions. For more than 25 years, he served on the Board of Trustees for Montreat College, Montreat, North Carolina, where the McGowan Center for Christian Studies is named for him. He also served on the Board of the Evergreen School in Minden, Louisiana. As a chaplain at the rank of Colonel, he retired from the Army Reserves in 1985 after serving for 27 years.

Matthew was preceded in death by his parents, Lonnie and Eva McGowan; his brother Jesse McGowan (KIA – WWII); his first wife Evelyn Cox (married 11 years) and his second wife, Louise Elizabeth Westbrook (married 58 years); an infant daughter, Mary Elizabeth McGowan; his son-in-law Randall Walter Spooner; his sister Nina Lou McGowan Shurer; his sister and brother-in-law Mavis and Earl Alder; his sister and brother-in-law Lucille and Frank Diener; his sister-in-law Alice Flye McGowan; his brother-in-law Raymond Brock and his niece Susan Brock. He is survived by his wife Reba McGowan; his sister Irene Brock, Asheville, North Carolina; his brother Rev. Charles McGowan, Nashville, Tennessee; his daughter and son-in-law Julie and Kenny Akins of Lula; his son Jesse L. McGowan of Chattanooga; his son and daughter-in-law, Rev. Kennedy McGowan and Dr. Chantal Gagnon; his daughter Anna Louise McGowan; his daughter Rev. Rebecca (Becky) McGowan Spooner of Conway, Arkansas; stepson and daughter- in-law Max and Nancy Gann of Eastover, North Carolina; stepson Ward Gann and Ellen Gann of Cleveland, Georgia; stepdaughter Susan Gann Stringer of Gainesville; and stepdaughter and son-in-law Karrie and Ben Rounsaville of Sherwood, Arkansas. He is also survived by his grand-daughter Lauren Elizabeth Markovich of Gainesville; his grandson Colton Clark of Jacksonville, Florida; his grandson Patrick McGowan of Plantation, Florida; many step-grandchildren; many nieces and nephews and their descendants.

In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to the World Mission Conference, First Presbyterian Church, 800 South Enota Drive NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; and his scholarship funds at either Montreat College, 310 Gaither Circle, Montreat, North Carolina 28757; or King University, 1350 King College Road, Bristol, Tennessee 37620.

The family wishes to express deep gratitude to his pastors, the Revs. Lee Koontz and Shon Peppers; his friend and colleague Bill Carr, who will lead the Honor Guard; his physicians Dr. Andre Kallab, Dr. Kevin Smith, Dr. William Manus and others; the Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center; the wonderful staff at Ashton Senior Living; the residents and staff at Smoky Springs and his church family and friends for all their love, prayers and support.