Mark Mowery had a great life — a wife and children who loved him, a nice home, good job, tons of friends, and respect and admiration in his community.
So when diagnosed with melanoma that would eventually take his life at age 48, no one could have blamed him if he moaned, "Why me?" and sat around decrying the cruel blow he was dealt. But that's not the way he was.
"He never wanted it to be about him," said his wife Bev. "He wanted to help other people improve their own lives. So instead of talking about this terrible thing that had happened to him, he asked people about their own problems and what they were doing to resolve them."
Mowery, of Centreville, died Sunday, May 21, at Inova Fairfax Hospital, leaving behind his wife, son Jeffrey, 16, a sophomore at Centreville High, and daughter Melissa, an eighth-grader at Liberty Middle. They lived in Centre Ridge since 1992, and June 13 would have been the Mowerys' 25th wedding anniversary.
But as sad as the family is, they realize how lucky they were to have him in their lives for as long as they did. And they've seen the example of love and caring he left for them and others to follow.
"Although I feel I was gypped out of a lot of years with him, I feel like I lived a good 50 years in 25," said his wife. "And although my kids also got robbed of that time with their dad, I feel the foundation he's laid for them and the values he's taught them will see them through this."
Bev and Mark met while attending the University of Maryland and married after graduation. "He loved the water [like I did]," said Bev. "He seemed to be made of something different than everyone else, and he was always talking about the future."
Mark received a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and a master's in digital numerical methods. He worked for IBM and Loral in Manassas and, later, was a network architect and director of client-server technical services for Sallie Mae in Reston.
From 2001-05, he was employed by The College Board, managing its Web site for SAT registration and other College Board products. Bev is the director of publications at AFCEA in Fair Lakes.
She described her husband as "extremely friendly and outgoing; everybody loved him." And overall, she said, he was in good health. He got annual physicals and had his heart checked before going on a strenuous hiking trip with the Boy Scouts. (Jeffrey was an Eagle Scout and Mark was a Cub Scout leader and then a Boy Scout leader with Troop 893 of Centreville).
A CLOSE-KNIT family, the Mowerys had an active lifestyle and liked spending time together. Mark was teaching the children how to sail, and they also enjoyed skiing after buying a fixer-upper, ski condo two years ago in Blue Knob, Pa.
"His philosophy was, 'If you stay home all the time, your kids will pull away from you; but if you take them to fun places, they'll pull their friends along, too,'" said Bev. "So we always tried to create a fun environment for them and their friends. Our house was always full of kids and, after he died, so many people told me, 'Mark was like a second dad to my child.'"
The Mowerys spent summers and weekends on their sailboat on the water but, said his wife, "Mark always used sunblock and we even had an awning on the boat. He had a dermatologist take off moles regularly and, when one came back with a 'questionable' biopsy report, he had the area around it removed. He didn't take any chances."
Last summer, he and Jeffrey went on a Scouting high adventure to the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. "It's the pinnacle of Scouting," said Bev. "Mark wanted to go as a Boy Scout, himself, but never got to, so it was his dream to go with Jeffrey." And he was one of three, adult leaders and six Scouts who hiked 71 miles and climbed 12,000 feet.
"He came home from that trip, the end of July, but couldn't get his strength back," said Bev. "At first, he thought it was the flu. And when he had a little bone pain, he thought it was just from the 50-pound backpack he'd carried."
Mark's doctor thought he had pneumonia and, a week or so later, sent him for a Cat Scan at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. At the beginning of August 2005, he was diagnosed with melanoma. If someone as health conscious as Mark could get it, said Bev, "It's a scary thing for everybody. It was a sucker punch; it came out of nowhere."
The Cat Scan discovered numerous nodules in his lungs. "He had over 200 tumors," said his wife. "The melanoma had metastasized. It's actually very rare, and there's not a lot of research money being spent on it. There's just a 5-10-percent survival rate."
But, determined to fight — and fight hard — Mark was accepted into NIH, the end of August, for treatments and responded dramatically to one of them. "All the lung tumors went away, and so did tumors that had developed in his kidneys and liver," said Bev. These were all tumors in his soft tissues.
HOWEVER, by October, the disease had spread to his sternum and his spine. Still, doctors considered his condition "stable," told him to get bone radiation and keep an eye on things.
"In March, Mark had back surgery to remove [the cancer from there], but it progressed to his hips and he hurt all over," said Bev. "In the past three weeks, it went everywhere. He got a small tumor in his brain, and they planned to take it out with 'Cyberknife' focus-beamed radiation. But before it could be done, this tumor caused a hemorrhage and he died."
After the hemorrhage, nothing could be done for him and he never regained consciousness. But as his family already knows — and which was underscored to them by comments of friends and acquaintances after he died — Mark Mowery's life may have been short, but it definitely counted and he left his mark in the community.
A member of Centreville United Methodist Church (CUMC), he gave the sermon there on Christmas Day. "He talked about how a person could do the right things and take care of himself and, still, something like this could happen," explained Bev. "So he told everyone, 'Renew your relationships with family and friends, quit smoking and find whatever spirituality your religion has and learn more about it.'"
"He wanted kids to think about the choices they make," she continued. "And he talked to the youth group, the Sunday before he died, and told them to grow their talents to lead to a happy life. He never realized how much of an impact he would have on people, but many have told us how they'd made changes because of him."
Mark was also close with his daughter Melissa, a Girl Scout who just received her Silver Award. Her troop recently redecorated, painted and refurnished an alternative house for youth, in Vienna and, said Bev, "Even though he was sick, he went to see it, within the past month."
He was proud of both his children and, said his wife, "They're two, spectacular kids and are clearly a reflection of the time and energy he put into them."
Mark wanted to take others along on his fight against the cancer, and he posted information about what he learned on his Caring Bridge Web site. "He wanted to give back to the world," said Bev. "He wanted to show people how good it could be, and he did a phenomenal job this year of staying positive."
NOT KNOWING for sure how much time he had left, he also packed a lot of living in the past 10 months. He had an ad-hoc college reunion with some friends, went skiing and to the Bahamas with his family, took his sister sailing and showed his brother the national Christmas tree. He also escorted his mother to her 50th college reunion and took his children to Philadelphia to see the Rolling Stones in concert — from fourth-row seats.
Mark also had a great sense of humor and many longtime friends. "At the hospital, people were pouring in," said Bev. "About 25 people were with him when he died." A celebration of his life was held last Saturday, May 27, at church, and more than 300 people signed the guest book. "Mark kept in touch with 20 friends from high school," said his wife. "And just about his entire college dorm was here on Saturday."
And although the Mowerys were always known as the "go-to" people in their circle, friends and acquaintances reciprocated in kind after Mark became ill. They drove Jeffrey and Melissa to and from band and dance practices, respectively, and were there to lend a shoulder to Bev.
"We're so incredibly blessed to live in this community and to have the friends we have," she said. "A groundswell of people have come to our aid, and it's good for our kids to see what a life well-lived can result in, in terms of respect."
Bev said her husband loved a challenge and was at his best when he was aggressively trying to overcome something, such as his battle with cancer. "I thought in my heart and soul, if anyone could beat this, it would be [him]," she said. "But if a few people in life decide to spend more time with their kids and take better care of their health and their lives, then maybe a good example can come out of all this."
Besides his immediate family, he's also survived by his mother, Mary Mowery of Las Vegas, and brother Alfred Leighton and sister Cynthia Philistine, both of Houston. His father, Alfred Mowery, preceded him in death. Memorial donations may be made to either the CUMC endowment fund or to Boy Scout Troop 893.