Inspired to a career in local government after seeing how many people were confused by information from various government offices, Barbara J. Mcgowan began her career as the aide to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago after earning her high school diploma and attending college. Following this, she spent time as the officer manager for Mayor Harold Washington’s Political Education Project, before returning to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District as commissioner and vice president in 1993, roles she continues to hold to this day. In her dual roles as commissioner and vice president, Ms. Mcgowan is responsible for providing clean drinking water to the residents of Cook County, overseeing roughly 2,000 employees and 7 water tanks, educating the residents about the workings of the district, and establishing the policy and procedures for the district.
Furthermore, Ms. Mcgowan is responsible for the creation of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Black history month program, which was recognized with a plaque outside of the downtown office. She has also been incredibly active with a variety of local and national political campaigns, including for former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and countless local officials ranging from governors, mayors, congressmen and women, aldermen, senators, and more. In order to keep abreast of developments in her field, she maintains affiliation with a number of professional organizations, such as the West Side Black Elected Officials, the Westside Chicago branch of the NAACP, the Congressman Danny K. Davis Organization, the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization, Cook County Democratic Women, the 29th Ward Democratic Community Organization and the Westside Ministers Coalition. Since 2017, she has been an executive member of the 37th Ward Democratic Organization.
For excellence in her career, Ms. Mcgowan has been the recipient of a number of honors and accolades. Most recently, she was inducted into the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2020, having been presented with a Top Ladies of Distinction Sparking Jewels Humanitarian Award for outstanding humanitarian service to youth, seniors and community in 2018 and the Danny K. Davis Outstanding Leadership Award in 2017. In 2015, she was awarded both the Women of Excellence Award from the Chicago Defender and the Women History Month Celebration Award. She had previously been recognized by her old high school with induction into the John Marshall High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 2013 and by the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council with the President’s Award in 2012.
In addition, Ms. Mcgowan was presented with the U.S. Minority Contractors Association’s Millennium Builders Award in 2012 and a Public Service Award from the Cosmopolitan Chamber of Commerce in 2009. She notably received the Outstanding Service in the Community Award from the Westside Ministers Coalition for four consecutive years from 2005 to 2009. During that period she was further honored with a Public Services Award from the National Black Contractor Association in 2007 and a Public Service Award from the Federation of Women Contractors in 2006. Other accolades to her name include the Cook County Democratic Hero Award, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Trailblazer Award for continued commitment to diversity and inclusive opportunity, the Chicago Park Teen Leadership Outstanding Volunteer Award, the Coalition for United Community Force Affirmative Action Advocate of the Year Graduate Award, and numerous others.
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Ms. Mcgowan attributes much of her success to the upbringing she was given by her parents, Roosevelt Crayton and Melinda Fair Tucker, which emphasized love and support and taking care of each other. Spending many happy year married to her late husband, John Mcgowan, they were together the proud parents of three children, Donna LaMour Mcgowan Watson, Joan LaNette Mcgowan and John Henry Mcgowan Jr., and grandparents to three wonderful grandchildren, Kelsee Simone Mcgowan, Tony Dante Rovy and Cassandra Watson. In her free time, Ms. Mcgowan enjoys going on long distance walks and spending time with her family. Looking toward the future, she has plans for retirement, but fully intends to continue volunteering in her community. She hopes to leave a legacy as someone who put a lot of effort into doing the right thing.