Michael Bowden (right) celebrates with his son Joel Bowden (centre) and the NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner after Joel Bowden won a recent by-election. (ABC News: Felicity James)
When Michael Bowden lost the ability to speak because of motor neurone disease, he still found a way to communicate by slowly typing words into a text-to-voice computer program.
“Life is an opportunity to grow stronger by meeting every aspect front-on,” the 73-year-old said via his computerised voice earlier this year.
Mr Bowden’s philosophy of continual growth carried through every stage of his acclaimed life — from his premiership victory with the Richmond Tigers in 1969, to the Australia Day honour he received this year for his work supporting remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
“He was a person of great compassion, humanity and even spirituality,” Richmond CEO Brendan Gale said after the death of the club legend on Saturday.
In the late 60s, Bowden wore the Number 11 guernsey for the yellow and black, combining his fierce work ethic with a slick pair of hands.
“He was incredibly well-respected by his peers,” Mr Gale said.
His legacy at the club didn’t end with the 1969 premiership: three of his sons — Sean, Joel and Patrick — also went on to play seniors at the Tigers.
Such was the club’s respect for Mr Bowden and his clan, that late last year it took its 2019 premiership cup to his home in Darwin, so the whole family could celebrate together.
“It was just wonderful, it meant so much to them,” Mr Gale said.
@Richmond_FC tweet: We, at Tigerland, are mourning the passing of 1969 premiership hero Michael Bowden.
Mr Bowden also made his mark away from the football field, both as a high school teacher in Darwin and as a community advisor in remote parts of the Northern Territory.
“He built such wonderful relationships out there,” said Charlie King, an ABC sports commentator who occasionally called football games alongside Mr Bowden.
“They will miss him, they will talk about him and they will feel so sad at the passing of this great man.”
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner also paid tribute to Mr Bowden.
“Mike’s time with us is marked by love of family, a commitment to social justice and a life’s work as an educator,” Mr Gunner said.
“Mike is the kind of man we all want to be — a gentle soul who fought fiercely for the things he believed.”
In 1969, Bowden had a total of 194 handballs from 20 games, 40 more than any other player in the competition. Here he’s pictured with his sons Joel, Patrick, and Kane. (Supplied: Ashlea Caygill/Richmond FC)
His son, Joel Bowden, who is now a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Territory, said his dad had been an inspiration.
“He has had a long battle with MND these past years, and we have watched on in awe as he took it all in his stride and remained such a huge influence and inspiration in our family’s lives,” he said.
Michael Bowden is survived by his wife, seven children and grandchildren.
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