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May 13th, 2016

Memories of Marlow Cowan

By Lee Aase, Director, Mayo Clinic Social Media Network

Marlow and Fran Cowan play the piano at Mayo Clinic. Marlow Cowan, whose playful piano duet in our Mayo Clinic atrium with his wife, Frances, became a YouTube sensation and led to national and international TV appearances, has passed away at age 97.

I got the news early yesterday in an email from the Cowans’ daughter, DeDe Shour:

One of the last questions a week ago my Dad asked me was, "Do you think there will be a piano in heaven I can play?" (Of course our Dad could never pass up a piano without playing it). I told him I was certain there was something similar to a piano but much more glorious and that I was sure he would be joining with the angels playing it for the Lord.

So if you happen to hear some rag-time music floating through the air, smile....cause it's just our dad playing the piano as he brings joy to those who have gone before him.

Mr. Cowan certainly brought joy to millions while he was here. So with DeDe’s permission, I want to share some memories of Marlow and also let you remember (or see for the first time) for yourself. 

Marlow and Frances Cowan are most widely known for this video captured and uploaded to YouTube in September 2008 by Jodi Hume, the daughter of another Mayo Clinic patient:

Seven years years ago last month, we saw Jodi's video and included it here on Sharing Mayo Clinic, and also posted the link to Facebook and Twitter. The video's view count at the time was just over 1,000.

Good Morning AmericaWithin a month, it had over a half-million views, leading Good Morning America to fly DeDe and her parents to New York for a live studio performance on the morning their YouTube view count reached 2 million.

The Cowans also were interviewed (via something akin to Skype) for a story on the Japanese TV network, NHK, and were featured in many other news stories.

We've stayed in touch since then, as I had opportunities to visit with them in Ankeny, Iowa, and as they also have returned to Rochester for some medical appointments and even a couple of concerts.

We're honored that the Cowans chose to do their last major public performance at Mayo Clinic, an after-hours concert in connection with a health care social media conference we hosted in 2011. In the video below you'll see Marlow's wit, as well as his love for music and for Frances:

For Marlow Cowan, music was a ministry. Through it he brought joy to millions (more than 11 million on YouTube as of this morning, as well as countless others through live performances.) I have been blessed to know Marlow and his family.

This video from the first time I met the Cowans at their home in Iowa captures well who Marlow was, and why so many of us will miss him:

Editor's Note: Lee Aase is a communications director at Mayo Clinic.

Tags: Frances Cowan, Geriatrics, Good Morning, Marlow Cowan, Piano

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