John Gowans was born in Blantyre, Scotland, on 13 November 1934, the third of five children. His parents were Salvation Army officers, constantly moving around the country as their work demanded. Moving south with them, as a teenager John attended the 350-year-old Halesowen Grammar School, Worcestershire, where he gained a love for drama and English Literature, a love which has never left him.
At 18, and with plans to train for the teaching profession, like most young men in the 1950s John undertook compulsory military service. Electing to join Her Majesty's Army, John's first choice was the Army Catering Corps. However, the wisdom of the military personnel selection officer prevailed and he was directed to the Royal Army Educational Corps.
He spent his two years of national service in Germany, forming what was to be excellent foundations for his calling in which teaching was to play an important part.
In 1954, John Gowans entered the International Training College. There he met his wife Gisèle Bonhotal who, before entering officer-training college from the Paris Central Corps, was a qualified children's nurse. French by birth and like John's, Gisèle's parents were both officers. The couple were married in Paris in 1957 and have two sons John-Marcand Christophe.
In 1967, the then Captain Gowans demonstrated his writing capacity when, with Captain John Larsson, he wrote the musical Take-Over Bid. This was a breakthrough and hugely popular in The Salvation Army throughout the world. It was translated into many languages. Nine other musicals followed this success and John Gowans became renowned for innovation, experimentation and inspiration, whilst always re-endorsing the traditional biblical values on which The Salvation Army rests. He has also written three books of prayer poems under the title of O Lord!
The Gowans served in different corps in the British Territory over a period of 16 years. When John was appointed National Stewardship Secretary, Gisèle combined her role as organiser of the International Youth Fellowship with work in one of The Salvation Army's London maternity homes.
After a period as divisional leaders in Manchester, UK, Lieut-Colonel John Gowans became Chief Secretary and Mrs Gowans Territorial Home League Secretary in France. The couple was then appointed to Los Angeles in the USA Western Territory. Here John served as Secretary for Programme, and Gisèle as Territorial Secretary of the Nurses Fellowship.
After serving as leaders of the Southern California Division the couple returned to France in September 1986 as leaders of that territory. Seven years later they were appointed Territorial Leaders of the Australia Eastern and Papua New Guinea Territory, which included responsibility for the work of The Salvation Army in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australia Capital Territory.
In April 1997, Commissioner John Gowans returned to his homeland to take command of the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland, and Commissioner Gisèle Gowans became Territorial President of Women's Organisations.
The High Council elected John Gowans as the 16th General of The Salvation Army on 15 May 1999. General Gowans took office on 23 July 1999, with Commissioner Gisèle Gowans as World President of Women's Organisations.
Gowans retired as General in 2002.