In an age that was most commonly referred to as the “Golden Age,” due to the success, team commitment, and honor bestowed by Branford athletics, there was an individual who was a courageous person, a promising athlete, a loyal fan, and a loyal worker. Tonight’s Branford Sports Hall of Fame inductee John A. McGowan was that four-in-one person.
Born in New Haven on November 23, 1897, John shortly thereafter moved to Branford and became a lifetime resident. He attended the local elementary schools, but being the eldest son, and in a common practice at the time, left school after the eighth grade to help support the family. He became an apprentice tool and die maker at the Atlantic Wire Company, but was very active in local sports, especially baseball and basketball. In his mid-teens, John was the catcher on the town baseball team. Several contemporaries later remarked that at that age he was a superior player to his brother Frank ( inducted into the Branford Sports Hall of Fame in 1988), who went on to become a major league player. However, at that time, John developed what was described as a heart murmur and was advised by a local physician to stop competing actively in athletics. He followed that advice completely, but rather than “walk away” from sports, John commenced on a lifetime of being a fan and supporter of sports in general and in particular, Branford athletics.
Over the next 20 years, John traveled to many venues including regular trips to Yankee Stadium, Army-Notre Dame football games, or witness a Jack Dempsey fight, and of course, following all Branford sports such as the Branford Laurels, the town baseball team and the evolving strong high school program under Johnny Knecht Jr. (1988).
In 1935, John married Margaret Purcell and they went on to raise four boys, Frank (1989), Bob, John H. (1992 inductee), and Dennis, and one girl, Margaret. This only added another level of sports involvement to his life as he faithfully followed his boys athletic endeavors, took them to various games and became a coach of last resort when needed. However, even when his children had finished school, he continued to attend most, if not all, of the high school games.
Following a varied work history that included the initial years at Atlantic Wire, selling insurance for John Hancock, self employment in raising poultry and a return to factory work at Winchesters, John retired from the latter plant at age 65. Unfortunately, Margaret died suddenly in 1970 and John, who never envisioned his outliving her suffered a heart attack and passed on in February of 1971.
While it will never be known what John would have accomplished as an athlete had he not developed the health problem as a young man, what is known is that as a fan and authentic supporter of Branford sports, he conducted himself with quiet dignity. “This award means a lot to the McGowan family. He was a very honorable and distinguished man and he didn’t run from anything because of his illness. We are proud of the Branford Sports Hall of Fame for honoring not only athletes and coaches, but also honoring fans and supporters,” said John’s son, John H. McGowan.