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Angus Cowan (1914 - 1986)
Angus Cowan played a key role in introducing the Bahá’í Faith to Canada’s aboriginal peoples. His life of teaching and traveling in western Canada, and later as a Continental Counsellor throughout the Americas, and his great love for everyone he met were remarkable.
Angus Cowan was born on 12 September 1914 in Bishopton, Quebec. He attended high school in Knowlton, Quebec, following which he attended Macdonald College in St. Anne de Bellevue. From 1938 to 1942 he sold life insurance, a field to which he returned from 1956 to 1960. In 1946, he was released from the Air Force, where he had served for two and a half years as an air frame mechanic, and, after taking classes at the University of Toronto for a few months, he was hired by IBM to work in sales, first in Toronto and later, from 1950 to 1955, in Winnipeg, where he managed the Electric Typewriter Division. He took an active interest in sports, serving as captain of hockey and baseball teams, and was at various times a member of the Big Brothers association, president of the John Howard Society, and Saskatchewan representative of the national committee of the Canadian Corrections Association.
In 1946, when Mr. Cowan returned to university, he sold books in a bookstore to earn a little money. He once recounted, “A customer by the name of John Robarts came in twice while I was on duty. I became his babysitter. I met his daughter, Nina, aged about four, who taught me my first Bahá’í lesson. John and Audrey Robarts became friends to me and had lots of patience for three years. Then Bobbie [Mr. Cowan’s wife] and I were ready to turn to Bahá’u’lláh. The happy day was 30 March 1949.”
In December 1953, after a vacancy had been created when John Robarts and his wife and two children moved to Bechuanaland in Africa, Angus Cowan was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada in a by-election. After serving on the National Spiritual Assembly for 14 years, Mr. Cowan was appointed Auxiliary Board Member for Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota, and Montana.
The following six years were described by Mr. Cowan as the most exciting period of his Bahá’í life. During those years he intensified his teaching activity among indigenous peoples. The deep love that he had borne for them all his life began to manifest itself in 1958 in the native communities of Saskatchewan. He came to be so loved and respected by the native people of Canada and the United States that the Tlingit people adopted him into the Eagle band and bestowed upon him the name Yik-Gah (Great Great-Grandfather).
Angus Cowan’s enthusiasm to serve the Faith sometimes led him to make hasty decisions. At an international conference in 1968, after listening to a plea for Bahá’ís to arise and travel to teach the Faith, he was so inspired that he pledged to pioneer in Venezuela, and only on his way home did the sobering thought occur to him that he had not consulted with his family! He did not act on that offer, and the burden of guilt weighed on him for some years until it was good-naturedly dispelled by Bahá’í friends. It was Canada’s good fortune that Mr. Cowan did not pioneer to Venezuela at that time; however, he enjoyed telling this story as an illustration of the need to balance audacity of initiative with realistic expectations of ourselves and our loved ones.
In October 1976, Angus Cowan was appointed to the Continental Board of Counsellors, a body responsible for the propagation and protection of the Bahá’í Faith. He served in this capacity for the next decade. Mr. Cowan exemplified Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortation to be “generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity.”1 At the last major conference he attended, he told his friends that, in a way, he was thankful for all the tests he had been given, even for the cancer that had been attacking his body. He went on to say that he had often spoken over the years of ‘reliance on God,’ but it was only through the pain and suffering he was then enduring that he felt he came to a clear understanding of what that phrase meant. He passed away on 9 March 1986.
* Adapted from Bahá’í World, Vol. 19, 1983-1986, “In Memoriam,” pp. 703-6.