Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

Bill Gower, 75, dies while snorkeling in the Caymans

Their honeymoon 26 years ago in Cayman Brac had seemed the best possible beginning to their marriage.

Bill and Allene Gower explored the caves on the 12-mile strip of land in the Caribbean and climbed the craggy bluff rising 140 feet from its blue waters.

A native everyone called Capt. Shelby took them snorkeling.

Mr. Gower was a solidly built man who loved the outdoors. He had taken multiple dive trips to Honduras, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Australia.

He grew up in St. Petersburg, where his father, Jack Gower, once formed part of a prominent real estate firm that later became Gower-Goheen.

In school he was distracted, a prankster. One teacher told him he would never amount to anything.

Mr. Gower dropped out of school and joined the Navy. He married Joyce, the mother of his three children, and worked for a Chevron dealer in the San Jose area. Mr. Gower returned to St. Petersburg and opened a Chevron station at 38th Avenue N and 66th Street. He would go on to open two more.

He offered full service to customers, including the teacher who had once predicted his failure.

"She said, 'I see you're pumping gas,' " said Allene Gower, 62. "He never told her he was the owner."

Her name was Allene Cobb in 1986 when they met. She was a nurse who needed a good mechanic. They married May 3, 1987. The honeymoon in Cayman Brac was just the first of many trips to the islands surrounding South and Central America.

Mr. Gower was known for a big, raucous laugh, recycling jokes he liked as often as he could and pulling pranks on friends of several decades.

Once, for example, his group of friends decided to help each other lose weight. They contributed to a pot of money that would go to whomever could lose the most weight in a month.

Mr. Gower smuggled dive weights to the initial weigh-in, ensuring he would win the pot at the second. "He finally told them years later," his wife said.

As a couple, they talked out differences, she said.

"He never raised his voice to me or slammed a door."

They lived in a modest home in Kenneth City, where he left love notes in her coffee cups. Once a year, each treated the other to a vacation.

"They wouldn't tell each other where they were going until they got to the airport," said John Gower, a cousin.

They returned to Cayman Brac earlier this month to celebrate their 26th anniversary. The island had since added motels and eateries. Instead of hiking, they drove to the top of the bluff. At night, they sat on the beach behind the hotel and looked at the thousands of stars.

One fixture hadn't changed: Capt. Shelby was still there, albeit a bit grayer, and ready to take them snorkeling. The Gowers met him in the morning. He took them to a reef and told them to drift with the current.

Early on, Mr. Gower reached out and held her hand for a moment. He had not done that before.

"I said, 'Are you all right?' He said, 'Yes. Let's head closer to shore.' "

He stood up for a moment in neck-deep water, then pitched forward.

His wife held him up and called for help. But she had been a hospice nurse and knew death when she saw it.

"I knew he was gone," she said.

Mr. Gower died on May 3, his 26th anniversary, of coronary artery disease.

He was 75.

"I know he took his last breath in the Caribbean, in a place that he loved," his wife said. "I can't ask for anything more."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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