Bennie Lee McGowan, 87, of Mesa, AZ . Today we celebrate her wonderful life, and how grateful we are to have been part of it. She left us November 21, 2018 and is now with her beloved husband, Bill McGowan, but not with out leaving us with a fortune of great memories that we will carry for the rest of our lives.
Mom was the life of the party. An actress, she discovered theatre at Tulsa Central High School when dared by a classmate to audition for a show, never one to turn down a dare, she got the part and from that time for the rest of her life acting was in her blood. She was proud to be part of the graduating class of 1949 and she and her classmates maintained lifelong relationships.
Mom went on to graduate from the University of Texas in Austin. After Graduating she went to New York to start her acting career. She got a job as a producer for the show Omnibus. This was also when she met and fell in love with her first husband, George Gilbreath.
She and her best friend Kathryn had a blast in New York. She met many famous people, this included the then Senator John F Kennedy. After spending the day running lines with him for his live performance, he asked her to a dinner party. I have always wondered what would have happened if she went.
Marriage and children were her next adventure. She and dad moved to Southern California to pursue their careers. They had 3 children and lived there for 20 years. Mom raised us and worked with dad helping him grow his business.
When the marriage ended, she moved back to her home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. There she met the love of her life, Bill McGowan. They were both cast in a production of Carousal at Tulsa Little Theatre, playing the part of Mrs. Mullin’s to his part of Jigger. In the show his line to her was “Put on a new coat of paint. You’re startin’ to peel, old pleasure-boat” as he blew smoke in her face, it was the beginning of their wonderful life together, she was always his “Old Pleasure-Boat”.
Together they did shows across the states & England. Mom played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma for years at Discoveryland, an outdoor theatre in OK that included live horses and a carriage with the Surrey on Top. This took them to England where Bill meet Princess Diane during one of their performances, they took pictures, which she proudly displayed everywhere she lived. She also did TV and movies at this time, including starring a horror film Revenge with John Carradine and Patrick Wayne, she always talked about how much fun she had while making that movie.
They left Tulsa and moved Dallas for a brief period before moving to California where she continued to pursue her acting getting small parts in Designing Woman, Family Matters and Days of Our Lives.
In 1992, Bill and Mom moved to Boise where they were able to be near their Grandchildren and got to be a large part of their lives as they were growing up. They appeared regularly in theatre’s there, including many productions with Knock Em Dead Dinner Theatre and Boise Little Theatre. Our favorite production was for Boise Theatre week where she played the Lush, Vera, in the production of Mame. We went back to see it 3 times over the weekend, she was amazing in the part.
They moved to Phoenix in 2003. Mom spent the next 15 years enjoying her family, including her Great Granddaughter, Megan, who she welcomed into the world in 2005. For years we would all get together for Tuesday night dinner. And any special occasion that came up we would all gather to celebrate. Mom and Bill were together for 40 years until his death in 2017.
She was a great mother, a fun grandmother and really enjoyed being able to spend time with her great granddaughter. She also had a great relationship with her son-in-law, Brad. She lived with us for 3 years until moving into assisted living in April. Brad always made sure she ate, took her to the store and was there for her when she lost Bill. Mom called him her knight in shining armor. He would tell me how lucky he was to have her as a mother-in-law.
She is survived by her children, me, Katy Crown and my husband Brad, George Downey Gilbreath and his wife Kathleen and Bryan Gilbreath and his wife Lily, her Grandchildren, Tiffany Johnson and her husband Mark and Cameron Crown, and her great Granddaughter, Megan Lee Johnson. She has 2 stepchildren, Suzanne Hale and Scott McGowan. Mom also has Cousins all over the country, she was especially close to Vaughn (Chan) Babcock and his partner Mark.