Celebrate Paul Gowins’ life

A celebration of Paul Gowins' life will be held June 19 at the Reno Elks Lodge from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Instead of flowers, the family asks that contributions be sent in Paul's name to the Nevada Center for Independent Living or Care Chest of Sierra Nevada.

Paul Gowins was a champion of the human spirit and a hero to many in the field of human services, especially to people with disabilities who wanted to live independently. He used his personal knowledge about the challenges of disabilities to create change in a state known for its miserly ways.

Paul passed away last week after a protracted illness when a cold turned into pneumonia. He had been confined to a wheelchair for many years after an accident left the burly construction worker a quadriplegic for life. Many of us might have been consumed with self pity in similar circumstances, but Paul turned his significant abilities and energy toward becoming an effective advocate instead.

Paul accepted employment with the state in the Office of Community-Based Services, working on independent living programs and job opportunities, insisting that people with disabilities receive every right they deserved through the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also served as the executive director of the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living until a car accident forced an early retirement.

Despite numerous hospitalizations and health issues, Paul continued to serve his community as a volunteer. He was the chair of the Commission on Services for People with Disabilities and worked hard to get personal care attendants a pay raise.

Paul’s relentless advocacy was truly his vocation. Legislators from both parties, such as Jan Evans and Bill Raggio, relied on his leadership and advice. He would chuckle when he told the story of how he became a Republican so he could vote for Dawn Gibbons in a primary. The only cross word he ever had with me, and he was none too gentle about it, was when I moved into his neighborhood and had to resign my Senate seat representing a district less than a mile away. He understood my need to move to a smaller house, but he thought I was being reckless in jeopardizing a seat in the Legislature when there was still so much more to do on behalf of the people he cared about so deeply. When I lost that close race, one of my first thoughts was how hard it was going to be to face Paul.

When Paul approached the witness table during a budget hearing, every legislator listened to him. He spoke forceably and without notes, always to the point. During the recession, as deep cuts were made in human services, he worked even harder, although it was increasingly difficult for him to get around. During a Special Session, I reluctantly asked him to testify on the Assembly floor in a Committee of the Whole, knowing what a burden it would be on him and his caretaker, but he immediately agreed to come. His testimony convinced the Legislature to preserve essential services and direct the cuts elsewhere.

Paul’s ability to weave a story about a person with disabilities into a policy decision earned him the W. Clark Santini Cup for Oral Communication. He also was awarded the Mike O’Callaghan Humanitarian Award by the Human Services Network, its highest honor.

A celebration of Paul’s life will be held Friday, June 19th, at the Reno Elks Lodge from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Instead of flowers, his family has asked that contributions be sent in Paul’s name to the Nevada Center for Independent Living or Care Chest of Sierra Nevada. There’s no doubt that’s what he would have wanted, to keep helping others even as his friends and family mourn his passing.

Paul was one of the most inspiring and selfless people I ever met. His courage and willingness to speak the unvarnished truth about what people with disabilities need and deserve is unparalleled.

Rest in peace, my friend. You’ve earned it.