Retired Circuit Judge William A. Gowan died December 20

December 21, 2023

Retired Circuit Judge William A. Gowan died Dec. 20 after a fall outside a business near his Madison home. He was 81.

Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26, at Parkway Funeral Home, 1161 Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland. The funeral service will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 1 p.m. at Parkway, with visitation preceding at 11 a.m. Interment will be in Parkway Memorial Cemetery.

Circuit Judge Bill Gowan

Colleagues recalled Judge Gowan’s 57 years in the legal profession, including 42 years of public service.

Longtime friend Steve Pickett of Raymond said, “Judge Gowan’s career spanned more than 40 years of service to the citizens of Hinds County and the state. His time as Circuit Judge was the highlight of his career....It was a place where he excelled after all of his life experiences.”

Pickett noted that Judge Gowan served by appointment of two Governors, Ronnie Musgrove and Haley Barbour, to fill vacancies on the Hinds County Court in 2002 and 2006. He also served as a special Circuit Judge by appointment of the Supreme Court from August 2008 through July 2010 to hear criminal cases. He was elected to the Hinds Circuit Court in November 2010 and took office in January 2011.

Judge Gowan retired from the Hinds Circuit Court bench on March 31, 2018. He continued his public service after retirement as a senior status judge, presiding over cases by assignment of the Supreme Court for another year.

His legal career spanned 57 years. In his early career, he practiced law in the Jackson firm of Waller, Pritchard and Fox, the law firm of former Gov. William Waller. At Judge Gowan’s retirement ceremony, then-Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr. recalled Gowan’s dedication, hard work and attention to detail when he worked at the law firm.

Waller noted on Wednesday that he was honored to have administered the oath of office to Judge Gowan twice. “As a Circuit Judge he tirelessly worked his docket to promote the fair, efficient and independent administration of justice, earning deep respect from all courthouse officials, the Bar and the public. His service and work ethic were exemplary, a legacy that will be long remembered.”

Retired Hinds Circuit Judge Tomie T. Green said Judge Gowan was fair, just and impartial. “He was well respected in the halls of justice and in turn he respected those who appeared before him,” she said. “Judge Gowan worked extremely hard to correctly interpret the law, whether in a criminal, a civil or appellate case from a lower tribunal....It was a pleasure to have him as a colleague in the largest circuit district in the State of Mississippi.”

Judge Green recalled the Bible’s Micah 6:8 “...and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Judge Green said, “I am persuaded that Judge Bill Gowan complied with that mandate and has indeed found favor with God.”

Gowan began his public service career as an assistant city prosecutor in Jackson 1978-1990. He served as city prosecutor 1991-1994; and as assistant city attorney 1994-1998. He later worked in the administration of the late Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, serving as undersheriff and counsel to the sheriff for 11 and one-half years.

Pickett, who worked in the Sheriff’s Office alongside Gowan, said, “His legal counsel to Sheriff McMillin was invaluable to the County....He and Malcolm were quite a team together. ” Gowan and Pickett also represented the Sheriff in meetings of boards and commissions, including charities that provided huge services. Gowan worked in the background, never seeking attention. “He was a part of a lot of good,” Pickett said.

Pickett said, “He was a man of few words but when he spoke, you got the message. With Judge Gowan, there wasn’t any misunderstanding.”

His son Will Gowan in a Facebook tribute at the time of his father’s 2018 retirement also talked about how he didn’t mince words. “My father was always fair and didn’t waste time playing on words. It took about a nanosecond to understand exactly what he thought about something.... There was no gray area and the line of demarcation between right and wrong was as clear as day from his perspective.”

Will Gowan and his sister Lauren grew up in City Court, watching after school as their father prosecuted shoplifters, traffic violators and others charged with misdemeanor offenses. “Those times taught us a lot about what bad behavior could yield – we didn’t want to end up on the receiving end of Dad and Judge (William) Barnett! We learned about bargaining, negotiation and the art of being professional. Respect was earned in that room and no one was entitled to anything. I can’t thank him enough for those experiences because they have provided more value to me than any business course at Ole Miss did (and yes, he made it clear that Ole Miss was the only college option for me.)”

Judge Gowan earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi and his Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

At his 2018 retirement ceremony, Judge Gowan shared recollections of his own early childhood. He recalled watching molasses making at his grandmother’s farm at Thomastown when he was about 7. A mule hitched to a pine pole walked in a continuous circle to turn the mill that squeezed juice from the sugar cane. He was told to lead the mule. He said that he didn’t immediately recognize that his assignment wasn’t essential. “Everything we come across in life is an opportunity to learn,” he said.