Rev. Dr. (Colonel) Matthew McGowan, trustee emeritus and a former chair of the Montreat College Board of Trustees, has passed away. He was 97.
His son, Pastor Kennedy McGowan, notified President Paul Maurer’s office that he died on Wednesday, June 14, at Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center in McGowan’s hometown of Gainesville, Georgia.
McGowan served on the Board of Trustees for nearly 30 years and is the namesake for the McGowan Center for Christian Studies.
“He was just a wonderful person and a very great friend,” said William Hurt, president of Montreat College from 1991-2002. “He was always right there when you needed him.”
During Hurt’s term as president, the Chapel of the Prodigal was completed in 1998. Hurt remembered many people wanting to pay affection to McGowan by naming the lower level after him. Today, the McGowan Center for Christian Studies houses classrooms and faculty offices for the Honors Program, Bible and religion, English, and history.
“When we put his name on that part of the chapel, it was a profound recognition that he was one of the most valued friends and members of the Montreat College community,” Hurt said.
In recognition of his distinguished service and contributions to Montreat College, McGowan was trustee emeritus in 2010. Dr. Dan Struble, who served as Montreat College president from 2004-2013, remembered McGowan for his dedication to Montreat College and a prayer-filled life.
“Matt was a very faithful, kind, and loving man who loved Montreat College, prayed for it, and encouraged others to support the college,” Dr. Struble reflected. “My main interaction with him was at meetings, where he was always quick to pray and very positive about God’s favor on Montreat College.”
Born on September 29, 1925, in North Carolina’s inner banks near Greenville, McGowan was the third of seven children of Lonnie and Eva McGowan. 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. 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 preached in the mill villages in the Gainesville area. He became an ordained minister in 1952, serving congregations in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, and Tennessee. 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 in 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. In addition to his ministry and board membership at Montreat College, 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. He also served on the Board of the Evergreen School in Minden, Louisiana. As a chaplain with the rank of Colonel, he retired from the Army Reserves in 1985 after serving for 27 years.