Retired State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. McGowan, 71, whose career in public service included terms in the State Senate and the former Erie County Board of Supervisors, died Wednesday (July 23, 1997) in the veterans unit of Genesee Memorial Hospital, Batavia, after a brief illness.
As chairman of the State Senate's Committee on Public Utilities, he was the first to propose the establishment of the 911 telephone emergency number and held hearings that led to its enactment.
His wife, Dorothy, recalled that he made the 911 proposal after a Cheektowaga woman died because she dialed the wrong number to summon help.
"As a former policeman," she said, "he was very aware of the problem."
As a state and national delegate for the American Cancer Society, he also was an early advocate of banning cigarette smoking.
He was appointed to the State Supreme Court in 1975 to fill an unexpired term. Defeated later that year in a bid for a full 14-year term, he ran again in 1976 and was elected. He retired in 1990.
McGowan came out of retirement briefly in 1991, when he accepted an appointment from former Mayor James D. Griffin to fill a vacancy in Buffalo City Court, then stepped down following the November election.
Born in Buffalo, he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II as a gunner and radio operator.
He joined the Buffalo Police Department in 1947 and served as an officer for 10 years while earning bachelor's and master's degrees at Canisius College. A veterans scholarship then enabled him to attend the University of Buffalo Law School, from which he earned a doctor of law degee.
In 1957, he became the first Buffalo police officer to be appointed an assistant district attorney. He served in the district attorney's office until 1962, when he was elected to the former Board of Supervisors.
After a two-year term as a supervisor, he became assistant counsel to the Penal Law Revision Commission, which wrote the state's current criminal code.
A Republican, he was elected to the State Senate in 1966, representing the 58th District, and served until 1974.
In addition to the Committee on Public Utilities, his chairmanships included the Senate Committee on Banking, Commission on Environmental Impact of Major Public Utilities and the state Energy Policy Commission.
He helped write banking reform legislation that established interest on escrow accounts, prohibited interlocking directors and abolished discrimination based on sex or marital status.
He was an observer during the Attica Prison Riot in 1971 and spent five days inside the prison negotiating with the inmates. Later, he served on the Jones Commission on Penal Reform.
A volunteer for the American Cancer Society since 1947, he was a national delegate from New York State for 10 years. He received the society's National Award in 1971 for "outstanding contributions to cancer control."
He also was president of Kevin Guest House, a home for families of patients at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Buffalo General Hospital, and served on the board of directors of Health Research Inc., which distributes funds for research in the state.
McGowan was a trustee of Daemen and Medaille colleges and was a member of the Erie Community College Advisory Board. He also served on the board of the UB Law School Alumni Association.
McGowan received honors from the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, the Criminal Justice Fraternity of Buffalo State College, Western New York Police Conference and the Police Science Alumni of Erie Community College. He received an honorary degree from Niagara University in 1983.
He taught at Erie Community College and the Buffalo Police and Erie County Sheriff's training schools. He also lectured at the Robert A. Taft Institute of Government at Alfred University.
Political writers referred to McGowan as a "friendly, cheerful public figure," and he often was called upon as a master of ceremonies and guest speaker. Known as a friend of labor while in Albany, he enjoyed broad support from unions.
Survivors include his wife of 46 years, the former Dorothy A. Rowe; two sons, Thomas J. of Buffalo and Michael F. of Somerville, Mass.; four daughters, Patricia A. Lipere of Berkeley Heights, N.J., Margaret M. Hurley of Fairport, Paula M. McGowan of Amherst and Dorothy P. Nordstrom of the Town of Tonawanda; a brother, Francis J. of Fort Erie, Ont.; two sisters, Marie Lauber and Catherine Myers, both of Buffalo; and four grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Friday in St. Benedict's Catholic Church, 1317 Eggert Road, Eggertsville. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.