In Memoriam: John P. Rowley

My father passed away this Sunday, Saturday 27th, and I wrote yesterday about the preparations that the family was making for the wake that was being held yesterday evening.    Today is the day of the visitation and funeral service itself, so I thought I would put in my blog a copy of the notice we sent out to the newspapers and through the funeral home about the life my father lived.     Here’s the funeral notice itself.
John P Rowley

“John Perry Rowley, of Homewood, IL, died on September 27th at the age of 89, at Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. John is survived by his children John Lawrence Rowley, Jerome Francis Rowley, Ralph William Rowley and Nora Elizabeth Rowley. He is predeceased by his wife Dorothy Winifred Rowley (née Stift) and his youngest son James Patrick Rowley. He graduated from Subiaco Academy in 1944 as the Salutatorian, and he was then drafted into the US Army in 1950, where he served for two years in Germany in the Army’s Public Affairs group. After leaving the Army, he attended Loyola University where he studied Political Science. He met his future wife Dorothy in English class taught by Father Jerome, who ended up performing their wedding ceremony in 1953. He was a reporter for the Sun Times from 1948-1967, Information Manager for the educational publisher Science Research Associates from 1967-72, and was the Director of Public Affairs and Marketing for the United Way of Chicago from 1972-1992. After he retired, he was on the board of the AIDS Ministries of Chicago, and was President of the South Suburban chapter for NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). He was a great storyteller and loved helping others. “

The picture we chose was of my father when he was a newspaper reporter for the Sun-Times back in 1948.    He started as a copy boy, and worked at the paper for almost 20 years.    He had three careers in his life, the first as a newspaper reporter, but then when Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun-Times my father saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to leave the paper while it was still the relatively liberal paper in the Chicago area.

His love of the journalism profession stayed with him throughout his life; although he adapted well to the computer age, he still read a physical newspaper every morning with his breakfast and coffee for the rest of his life,.  Although he supplemented his diet of current events with the occasional new program, the print medium of journalism remained his passion.    He used those skills as a newspaper reporter to work in the field of public relations in his second career as Public Affairs and Marketing for the United Way of Chicago, where he worked for the next twenty years of his life.    Through his work, he realized that the world of advertising and marketing could be used not just to sell products to consumers, but to provide services to the needy through the charities supported by the United Way.

And when he retired in 1992, it wasn’t long before he made the transition to what I call his third career, that of working as Public Relations officer for the Chicago South Suburbs chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill after which he became the President from 1998 through 2007,, a span of almost a decade.    He would monitor the legislature for laws that would effect funding for treatment of those suffering from mental illness here in the state of Illinois, and would get the word out if funding cuts were being proposed.    Advocate groups including NAMI would sometimes rally and otherwise put pressure on politicians to reverse or at least reduce those cuts if possible.

One of the initiatives started under his tenure as President was a series of educational programs aimed at correctional facilities to give those who worked there practical guidance on how to deal with prisoners who exhibited symptoms of mental illness.    The thinking was that if would be the younger workers who would be more receptive to new information , but the reality of the program turned out to be that it was the “veterans” among the workers who were more receptive, because they had more experience with prisoners who exhibited symptoms of mental illness, and were therefore more grateful for any information that would help them defuse situations that could result in harm to themselves or other prisoners.

My Dad retired from his third career finally in 2008, and lived a comfortable retirement in Homewood, Illinois, together with youngest son James.    In 2013, I was in transition to a new career, and he asked me to come and stay with him temporarily as he underwent a risky heart valve operation.    After the initial exploratory operation, he suffered a mild stroke and I helped him as he went to a rehabilitation facility to recover his speech and motor skills.    His speech skills were the first to recover, because my Dad was a born storyteller and loved to engage in conversation.    His physical strength took a little longer, but when we took him home in the fall of 2013, I told him I had started to put roots down here in Chicago and decided to stay with him.    There were home health care aides who helped him from 9 AM to 8 PM, but I had the privilege of putting him to bed at night for the past two years.     The programs he enjoyed watching the most–besides the obligatory news programs–were International Mysteries that showed on MhZ channel and which showcased a mystery story from a different country in Europe each week.    He loved mysteries, detective novels, and spy stories throughout his life and these programs combined that interest of his with a bit of vicarious travel thrown in.   He also enjoyed science programs on Nova, the Discovery Channel and other learning channels.    Just the week before he had to go to the hospital with a gallbladder attack, he pointed out a program he wanted to watch on Nova about a new human species, Homo naledi, discovered by paleontologists in South Africa.    I ended up watching it with him and he sat in rapt attention as the program relayed the new discoveries being made.

I can say these past two years have been some of the happiest of my life, being able to share them with my father whose relatively limited physical mobility did not affect his mental mobility at all.    When he recovered from the stroke, he felt that every day of his life was a gift, and his cheerful good nature shown through to all of those who knew him.    This week I was cleaning out his room in preparation for today’s funeral and I started feeling light-hearted and began to sing to myself, anything from snippets of Broadway tunes to the theme of “Star Trek:   The Next Generation.”    I caught myself and had to laugh out loud:   my Dad used to sing to himself when he on the computer in his bedroom or wheeling himself into the kitchen for a bite to eat.    I think unconsciously I was entering the “Dad zone” while in his bedroom and that’s why I was suddenly singing to myself, something I don’t normally do.    Only my father, I reflected, was capable of cheering me up even after he was gone from this world.

He lived a full life which was so full that it continues to spill over into mine and that of the rest of my brothers and sister, even as we gather together with his various relatives, friends and acquaintances to celebrate it.    At some point in my life, I think it was in college, I performed the mental experiment of asking myself, if I had not been his son, and had been his same age and say, met him in college, would I have been his friend?    I didn’t hesitate to answer an enthusiastic “yes”:   we’ve shared the same outlook on the world in our curiosity about the people from other cultures and countries, and while I have not inherited his same cynicism about politics that was borne out of being a journalist, I have inherited his attitude of gratitude towards life, which is perhaps his greatest legacy to me.

In the end, I will miss my conversations with him, but I don’t his presence as much because it is, to a certain extent, still with me.   As I mentioned in his funeral notice, it was a privilege of a lifetime to be his son.


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