Helen McGowan, Monroe business owner, dies at 91

Photo of Amanda Cuda

MONROE — Deidre Giannini saw her mother Helen McGowan as something of a “pioneer woman.”

Indeed, McGowan, who died earlier this month at age 91, tread some difficult ground. She was a divorced single mother to three children and a female business owner in the 1960s, when such things were still fairly unusual. She frequently traveled alone, even to other countries where she didn’t know the language.

“She never looked back,” said Giannini, 68, of Monroe. “She never complained. She just looked forward.”

McGowan was the co-owner of McGowan’s Pizzaland, 401 Monroe Turnpike. About 40 years ago, she and her son Scott what bought Pizzaland, and her son Larry eventually joined them. But that successful business was just one stage in McGowan’s life.

In 1962, she created the Monroe Taxi Company, shuttling area residents to and from local destinations and the New York City airports. She was also a bartender and waitress and eventually pursued a career in real estate.

Lawrence McGowan, one of McGowan’s sons, said his mother was always a force to be reckoned with. “She was a strong woman who did what she had to do,” said Lawrence, 70, of Woodbury.

Giannini agreed that it was hard to deter her mother from anything that she had set her mind to. She recalled that, in the 1980s, her mother was “determined to go back to her roots in Greece.” So she traveled there alone, but had a hard time getting the concierge at her hotel to help her, because she didn’t speak fluent Greek, Giannini said.

Undeterred, Helen befriended an Australia woman named Christina who knew Greek and served as an interpreter.

Helen was always making friends like that, her children said. “The only friend she didn’t have was the one she hadn’t met yet,” Lawrence said.

He said his mom knew the names of all the customers at McGowan’s, and Giannini said her mom’s buoyant personality was one of the reasons the restaurant was so successful.

“She lit up a room,” Giannini said.

McGowan died on Sept. 10 after a long illness. There will be a memorial service for her at 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on the Monroe Green.