At least a hundred people attended the service for Greg Bowen on July 12, 2019, at the Juneau Tlingit & Haida Community Center hall on Hospital Drive. After it was over, Mabel Pittman presented an urn with some of his ashes to the commercial-fisher family he had worked with and been close to for decades.
“It was a very generous giving, with sacrifice, but Mabel knew Greg’s fishing family was hurting, too, and that we knew where his favorite fishing spots were,” said Barbara Cadiente-Nelson, who co-owns fishing vessels with Norval Nelson where Bowen worked the most. He is buried at Alaskan Memorial Park and Legacy Funeral Homes in Juneau.
Memories of Bowen, who died June 29, 2019, after being stabbed 12 days earlier, have come back, this time accompanied by a sense of closure and relief.
On Friday — nearly 4.5 years after the incident — a jury found Sonya Taten, 46, guilty of second-degree murder and other charges related to the fatal assault. Taton, who will be sentenced on March 8, was also found guilty in the non-fatal stabbing assault of Michael Garrison.
“Justice has been served,” said Nick Nelson, who was outside Courtroom C in Superior Court in Juneau, shortly after the verdict was read. As captain of the fishing vessels Star of the Sea and Trinity, both owned by his parents, he was close to Bowen. Nick Nelson created a video about Bowen that was shown at his service which remains on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PvhDuraRo0.
Bowen was born in Fairbanks in 1957 and moved to Juneau as a young boy. Aside from 10 years in Angoon, he lived in Juneau for the rest of his life, when he wasn’t at sea. The Angoon years are especially memorable to Pittman, who raised children and co-parented with Bowen until his death.
“He was our friend who became family,” said Roberta Jack, of Angoon. Bowen lived with her family and eventually was adopted into the Tlingit nation, T’akdeintaan, Sea Pigeon, by Beth Jack. Pauline Johnson honored him with a Tlingit vest which he kept “with pride and joy to represent his Tlingit family,” according to the program passed around at the service.
Jack said there is closure, but “no words. There’s no amount of time that can make any of this right. A gentle, kind man is still gone at the end of this.”
Bowen is remembered by people who follow the Angoon ABN and ABS basketball teams, which he helped to win trophies. He will be inducted into the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament Hall of Fame in 2024.
Bowman spent much of his life on the waters of Southeast Alaska and was most widely known by members of the commercial fishing community. He worked as a deck boss and skiffman on fishing vessels all over the region, and for 25 years with the Nelsons.
Pittman gave Bowen’s ashes to the Nelsons so they could spread them at “the seine hook-offs which Greg mastered, and other favorite places he enjoyed,” said Cadiente-Nelson. “The guys mixed his ashes with paint and painted a cross at some of the rock wall sites.”
The season following his death was like a tribute season to Bowen, said Cadiente-Nelson. “They sprinkled ashes in places Greg loved to fish: Icy Strait, Hawk Inlet, outer Chichagof Coast, Lynn Canal and Crawfish Inlet. These are also the last places he set the Trinity’s salmon set in September of 2017.” That included members of generations of the Nelson family and other friends and crew.
“We trusted him with our kids and our grandkids,” said Cadiente-Nelson.
Recalling Bowen’s caring nature publicly has been an important part of the grieving. Taton alleged that she stabbed Bowen in self-defense, and it’s important to Pittman and Nick Nelson, who testified — and others, who didn’t — that they talk about the kind of man Bowen was.
He was “the opposite of violent,” Pittman said.
Pittman, who raised children and co-parented with Bowen until he died, talked about how he looked out for his family and friends, especially his three children, Wade Bowen, Alexandria Pittman, Alexandria Roehl, and his godson, Michael See.
“He was always cooking and making sure other people had food, always shared the wealth, his catch,” said Pittman. He showed up with catch from whatever season was underway, salmon or crab or king crab, or halibut, as well as meat from the Thanksgiving hunting trip. “That was his nature, his caring and giving and providing for his family, and others.”
People remember Bowen well because of his generosity, Pittman said. Not long ago one of the neighbor kids, long grown, reached out. “She said she was the girl in the brown house, and ‘I have the craziest, funniest memory of Greg,’” recalled Pittman.
The story, which Pittman also recalled, was of her and other kids getting off the school bus and seeing Bowen in the yard. He’d been harvesting king crab and cooking.
“He told them to wash their hands and get ready for some grub,” said Pittman. So the kids went into the bathroom to wash up and were startled when there was movement in the bathtub. There, to their surprise, four king crabs started to wake up.
“They were totally shocked — scared the crap out of them,” laughed Pittman. “Even 34 years later, getting a message from one of those kids? They remember him.”
The Thanksgiving hunting trip is something Bowen did with the Nelsons, a tradition that dates back with the Nelson family more than 55 years. It started with “Norval, Sr. (Ole) and son Norval, who would leave aboard their fishing vessel for their hunting grounds with their sons, grandsons and crew and a few other fishermen,” Cadiente-Nelson said.
The annual 10- to 14-day hunting trip has continued ever since. It begins the night of the holiday. As with other families who share the same tradition, sometimes the hunters return with their deer limit and the boat frozen over from stormy seas. Other times conditions are mild.
“Greg was always eager to go along and made sure everyone aboard was safe,” she said.
“The men hunt in daylight, said Cadiente-Nelson. “At night they dig clams in the moonlight and have a crab feast on the beach, “with blazing bonfires to stay warm.”
The hunting trip will happen a little later this year, she said. But “Greg will be with them in spirit.”
• Contact Meredith Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 615-3190.