Peter James Cowell (1926-2021)

Peter James Cowell (1926-2021)

Peter was born in Maymo, Burma a city just north of Mandalay. Peter’s autobiography, self published in 1999 described an idyllic childhood as the youngest of eight siblings.
This all changed when WWII came to Burma December 1941 when Peter was 15 years old. He and his elder brother, Alfred, escaped by walking from Burma to India across the Chindwin River route. Unfortunately his father, James Henry Cowell, died on the trek through the northern Hukwang Valley-Patkai mountain route. Peter’s mother, Mildred Cowell (nee Garnier) and her six daughters had evacuated earlier while airplanes were still transporting women and children to India.
As refugees, Peter and his brother found temporary shelter at the Loreto Convent in Calcutta. Although he did not know it at the time, a young nun who later in life would be known as Mother Teresa was also there as a Loreto sister.
After reuniting with his mother and sisters in Musoori, India, Peter was sent to boarding school at St Joseph’s Academy in Dehra Dun which is north of Delhi near the Nepal/China borders. After high school graduation he joined the British army in India. After officers training he was assigned to the Gurkha Regiment about the same time as the American and British forces began reclaiming Burma. Peter was posted to Rangoon as a Lieutenant in the 4th Burma Regiment under the command of the British Empire.
After the war and his family scattered, Peter, age 22, found opportunity with the newly created Pakistan Army, eventually reaching the rank of Bridgade Major in the Artillery.
He was stationed in Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Kashmir, and Karachi. While stationed in Quetta he visited a Burma family who had a 17 year-old daughter, Helen Abreu. As a young girl Helen used to ride the train to school with Peter’s nieces in Rangoon. In high school she had seen the boy from Burma, Peter’s pictures in the newspapers winning diving and boxing championships for the Army.
Helen and Peter were married Dec 29, 1951 in Quetta.
In 1959 at age 33 with a wife, two young children and $500, Peter immigrated to America. Their journey included sailing through the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal past the Rock of Gibraltar to England then on to New York. After traveling by train across the entire United States the family arrived at the downtown Los Angeles Union train station and settled in El Monte, California.
Peter found work as a book keeper during the week and unloaded train cars on the weekend for $2/hr. He took classes at UCLA and pursued his education, passed the CPA exam and landed a job with Coopers & Lybrand then at Arden Mayfair. At age 46 years Peter left the corporate world to build his own accounting practice in Fillmore, CA.
Peter and Helen bought their home in Bardsdale on 10 acres of Valencia oranges. All his family and friends loved visiting their home and observed that the landscape with the Sespe Mountains reminded them of his hometown, Maymyo.
In 1994 his sisters and nieces journeyed to Fillmore for a Cowell Family Reunion. It was the first time in 50 years the siblings were all together. His daughter and grandkids still refer to those few weeks as the time of “the ancient ones” because of all the family stories, seeing the siblings singing, laughing, teasing, cooking and eating were a gift.
Peter and Helen loved America. They had both lost their fathers and their homes as children. They were so proud to be citizens of their new homeland. A country whose people welcomed them with generosity. A place with abundance and opportunity.
Peter was preceded in death by his son, James in 1998. By Helen 2 months before his own passing. And by all his sisters: Myrtle in England, Minna, Gertrude, Olga and May in Australia, and Elvera in New Zealand and by his brother Alfred in West Covina, CA.
Peter is survived by his daughter, Jan (Mike) Grandchildren Emily (Ed) and Kevin (Tracy) and great grandchildren Peter, Julia, Finley and Pippa.
Over the years Peter’s indulgences included Burma cheroots, Ballantines, Dry Sack sherry, Cuban cigars, mini Palmiers and lots and lots of ice cream. After retiring he was dedicated to going to the gym, riding his exercycle and walking the treadmill, five days a week without fail. He enjoyed indulging his wife’s love for travel. They enjoyed dancing at weddings and parties and loved listening to all the “old music” from the 40’s.
Internment was Dec 29, 2021 at Bardsdale Cemetery, Fillmore, CA which was their 70th wedding anniversary.
A memorial Mass will be held Saturday, March 12, 2022 at 10 AM at St Francis Assisi Catholic Church, Fillmore, CA 93015. Officiants Father Alex Amayun and Deacon Manuel Martinez. Luncheon to follow 11am-1pm.
In lieu of flowers a donation in Helen and Peter Cowell’s name may be made to the Neal Taylor Nature Center at Cachuma Lake 2265 Hwy 154 Santa Barbara, CA 93015
Welcome to The Neal Taylor Nature Center at Cachuma Lake.
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