Stephen R. Cowgill
Stephen R. Cowgill
  • September 12, 1953 - July 13, 2017
  • Orlando, Florida

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Stephen Randolph Cowgill, 63, passed away unexpectedly on July 13, 2017. Stephen, known as Randy to his family, was born in Natchez, MS on Sept. 12, 1953. He contracted polio at 8 months of age, the same year the Salk vaccine went into experimental trials. With over a million schoolchildren volunteered for the year-long study, the trials still stand as the “greatest public health experiment in history.” for more info on polio vaccine. In the spring of 1955 the vaccine was declared safe and effective with 80-90% prevention rate of the disease that had killed as many as 15,000 Americans per year and crippled thousands more in the decades before. Jonas Salk’s work augmented by another form of vaccine created by Dr Albert Sabin combined with massive efforts by the World Health Organization have almost eliminated polio. Only 37 cases in three countries were reported in 2016. But this highly contagious disease could resurge if vaccination programs do not continue.

This medical miracle came too late for Randy who spent his life as a paraplegic. He was a bright, happy child, nonetheless, zipping around the neighborhood in a tiny wheelchair his father made from a child’s rocking chair and then learning to walk with braces and crutches while wearing a peewee football helmet to protect his head from inevitable falls. He received excellent care at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis and from the great surgeons and doctors at Campbell’s Clinic who literally wrote the book on orthopedic surgery, a 4-volume set now in its 13th edition.

The family moved to Mississippi, where the Clarksdale schools at first balked at enrolling a disabled child. His mother received regular calls from teachers who didn’t know what to do when Randy went head first down the slide or took off his braces to walk down the hall on his hands much to the delight of his classmates. “Let him be a kid and call me if there’s blood or a broken bone,” his mother said. She would later be tasked by the local school board to search out other underserved children with special needs in the county. Continuing his education in another Delta town, Greenville, MS. Randy excelled academically and seldom missed school. After a spinal fusion left him homebound in a full body cast for months, he went to school by a special radio hookup. One day he overslept and when he keyed in, he heard all the children laughing as his teacher shook the box on her end and shouted, “Randy, are you in there?” He was a 1971 graduate of Sheffield High School in Memphis, TN.

He was a gifted musician and songwriter, self-taught on guitar and mandolin. When he attended Memphis State, he was often found sitting on a low stone wall on Central Avenue near the campus serenading the stars and whoever happened by. When he moved to Orlando in 1987, he continued his impromptu concerts and sometimes sold cassettes of his songs.

For the last couple of decades he lived in the Groves Mobile Home Community. Stephen was in a wheelchair for the past 21 years as Post Polio Syndrome impacted his strength and stamina. He was a regular sight on the Lynx Bus System and wheeling around downtown Orlando in his chair. And yes, he could pop a wheelie to jump up a curb.

A life-long Memphis State Tiger basketball fan, he also rooted for the Orlando Magic. An avid reader of science fiction and Marvel Comics, he was thrilled to have met Winter Park author Andre Norton in person. He shared his passion for movies and great TV series. He was also technologically gifted and learned to build his own computers. He enjoyed games and puzzles, both digital and analog; everything from Texas hold ‘em to chess, scrabble and other board games on up to long-running, complex PC games that took months to play through.

Full bearded with a graying blonde ponytail down his back and his signature overalls, he was a hippie stuck in the 60's, truly the epitome of the love, peace and rock n roll generation. Stephen was a gentle person who always had time for everyone. Stoic and uncomplaining, he did not let physical pain dim his enjoyment of life. His host of friends who frequent the Office Bar on Silver Star Rd. will miss him, as will everyone who ever knew him.

He was especially loved by cats and children. He always fed a clowder of cats which would vie for his attention, as many as three at a time purring on his lap. He was arguably the best uncle in the world. He would take off his braces and get down on the floor with his nieces and nephews; they called him their personal Muppet. When the next generation came along he was the best great-uncle—giving wheelchair rides, playing board games and computer games and serving as a font of wisdom on the intricacies of the Marvel universe.

He is survived by his 90 year old mother, Josephine Cowgill, Baton Rouge, LA; a brother, Frank Cowgill, Jr. (Ellen)of Taylors, SC; 2 sisters, Kris (Dale) Harding of Baton Rouge and Val (Leonard) Mobley of Orlando; 4 nephews, Michael Cowgill (Kathryn) of Memphis; Jacob (Elena) Henley of Windermere, FL; Daniel (Laura) Mobley of Vernon, FL; and Matthew (Kyle) Mobley of Tampa; 3 nieces, Jennifer (Ben) Owens of Baton Rouge; Meghan (Chris) Audler of New Orleans; and Catherine (David) Schwartz of Simpsonville, SC; and was great-uncle to 15. Stephen was preceded in death by his father, Frank Cowgill, Sr.