Cover photo for Ann Gowen Combs's Obituary
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1935 Ann 2019

Ann Gowen Combs

April 29, 1935 — October 15, 2019

Ann Gowen Combs, of Bainbridge Island, Washington, died October 15, 2019 at age 84. Ann was born April 29, 1935 in Sagada, the Philippines, to Frances Olin Gowen and the Reverend Vincent H. Gowen. She spent her childhood with her older brother Geoffrey and parents in the small mountain village of Besao, where her father was an Episcopalian missionary.

In April 1942, when Ann was six, the village was invaded by Japanese troops. 500 civilians were taken prisoner and held in deprivation in the Baguio Internment Camp (Camp Holmes) until December 1944, when everyone was moved to Bilibid Prison in Manila. Conditions were dire. On February 4, 1945, during the Battle of Manila, the American Army advanced and liberated the prison, freeing the internees and POWs. Ann was nine. She once described seeing American planes flying over the prison and later, as she arrived by ship to San Francisco, going under the Golden Gate Bridge and thinking there should be a band playing up there.

The family settled on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Ann enrolled for school at Annie Wright Seminary in Tacoma and went on to attend Smith College, where she favored “Ann” over “Miss Gowen” and convinced her East Coast classmates she grew up living in a tent. Ann graduated with a degree in English Literature.

In 1957, Ann married Joseph R. Combs, Jr. They’d met while he was on leave from the United States Air Force, and on their third date, he asked her to marry him. Ann and Joe wed in Wichita Falls, TX, where he was stationed. Together – and with a growing family – they traveled to his assignments in Tokyo, Maryland, and Colorado before Joe’s retirement from twenty years the military, in 1970.

With their six children, Ann and Joe returned to live on Bainbridge Island, where they raised the kids and assorted pets, remodeled their house, welcomed visits from friends, and ensconced themselves in island life. Ann even joined the quirky annual Scotch Broom Parade once: In long johns, sunglasses, and a scotch-broom crown, she let her hair down, rode the neighbor’s horse, and went as Lady Godiva. No one knew who it was. The kids all stayed home that year.

Too soon, in early 1988, Joe died of cancer. Ann carried on. It took almost thirty-two years for them to be together again.

Ann wrote a weekly humor column for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and published three memoirs and a children’s book. Once Upon a Two by Four is still available in paperback. Ann loved reading, and shared her enthusiasm with others as a bookseller (and co-instigator of the store’s annual limerick contest) for more than 20 years at the island’s Eagle Harbor Book Company, where she retired less than a week before she died. She always had a good book to recommend.

Ann enjoyed playing solitaire at the kitchen table, solving the New York Times crossword (in ink), and singing Tom Lehrer songs. She criss-crossed the island on Fridays with her weekly walking group. Other days found her cheering for the hometown teams, the Seahawks and the Mariners. Ann appreciated that at every hour of the day, somewhere in the world there was an episode of Law and Order playing. She had a crush on James Garner in The Rockford Files and spent Christmas mornings watching Leave it to Beaver marathons. All her children learned: Don’t ever call during Jeopardy.

Ann was preceded in death by her parents and husband Joe, and is survived by her brother, her six children (David, Sylvia, Jenny, Geoffrey, Robert, and Joan), three sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, and many in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 16th, at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 1187 Wyatt Way NW Bainbridge Island, WA.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Ann Gowen Combs, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Starts at 11:00 am (Pacific time)

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