Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stand easy

Babble on.

RIP, Philip Cowie, husband and father, naval officer, rugby player, and mentor.

I knew Phil for only three years from '89 to '92, while attending RMC, but how long you knew Phil had nothing to do with how much he inspired you. He was a man, in the noblest sense of the word, and for a boy striving to become a man at the time, his character and presence was a beacon.

One story among my memories of Phil stands out among the rest.

It was rugby season in the fall of '91 at RMC, and Phil was just coming back from his first bout with cancer, not yet fully recovered. The cadets from West Point were coming to Kingston, and Phil wanted to play, if he could. I gladly gave up my spot in the lineup.

There was a fierce wind that day, and for some reason, the normally hard-running USMA team were kicking the ball deep as often as they could. Phil at fullback ran under under every single kick and stood up under the punishing tackles he knew were coming until support could arrive. He didn't drop a ball, he didn't let a single man past him, he kicked the ball miles in the air, and he inspired the rest of the team around him.

He couldn't have weighed more than 160lbs at the time - not a lot for a man with his six-feet-plus athletic frame, and probably fifty pounds off his prime - but he didn't shepherd his strength or pace himself. He went all out right from the opening whistle.

Those of us on the sidelines knew we were seeing something special, and when we weren't cheering ourselves hoarse with encouragement, we were holding our collective breath. You could see the superhuman effort he was putting forth and how much this performance was costing him, etched grimly on his face. He just wouldn't quit, wouldn't back down, wouldn't accept anything from himself other than his very best. It was leadership by example, distilled and pure.

At the half, visibly exhausted, Phil asked me to take over for him. Whatever he had set out to prove to himself that day, he had done it. I had played rugby for years, and I was never as nervous going into a game as I was that day, trying to fill shoes the size of a boat. But after his example, how could you not step up?

As I write this, I realize it sounds silly making so much of what, at the end of the day, was just a game. All I can say is that something about how he played, and practiced, and coached; about how he doled out scolding with nothing more than a disapproving look and encouragement with a grin and a clap on the shoulder; about how he held himself and...LIVED, I guess, simply showed everyone around him how to be better themselves. Not just at rugby, mind you, but at anything they chose.

I've never forgotten that episode, or dozens of others involving him, because Phil Cowie inspired me like few others in my life ever have, and the memory of him inspires me still. He was larger-than-life, and he will be truly missed.

Babble off.


At 6:41 p.m., Blogger John the Mad said...

A very moving tribute. His charactor shines through your works. May perpetual light shine uopn him.

At 5:58 p.m., Blogger Emma said...

My name is Emma. I am Phil's neice and god daughter. It has been just over a year since he passed away. I typed his name in a search engine and almost everything that popped up was about my uncle. I had read your story about him just a few days after he had passed away. This was one of the very many moving stories that i have read about him. But this one as one of the ones that i never forgot. It made me realize how truly amazing he was and that it was not only myself who saw him as a super hero. I've grown up without a father but he stepped up and made sure that i never felt that i was missing anything in my life. He was the most incredibly inspirational person i've ever met. He'll never be forgotten.


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