J. W. Lown, the former mayor of San Angelo who chose to leave office before his fourth term began, in 2009, died suddenly on November 15 from a heart attack, one day shy of his forty-seventh birthday. The response from many San Angeloans was immediate and unequivocal. 

A Facebook post shared on Thursday by CDR San Miguel, the real estate agency Lown was working for when he died, summed up how many felt about him. He was marked by an abiding “kindness, generosity, and warm spirit,” the post said. Citizens of San Angelo like me knew those qualities well. In a town of about 100,000, Mayor Lown, who died on Wednesday night in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, was an engaging presence in town, often doing ride-alongs with police officers or crashing bridge tournaments at the Sue Barber Bridge Center. His political approach during the six years he served as city leader seemed simple: listen. Those conversations led him to collaborate with community organizations to develop housing for low-income families and to advocate for a skate park in town as a way to create a new sort of community center for San Angelo’s young people. 

His sudden resignation came as a shock to the community. Still, comment sections on the San Angelo Standard-Times website and Facebook were filled with well-wishes, and restaurant marquees reflected the sentiment “J.W. WE MISS YOU.” 

Lown and I first met in March of 2022, at Fleming’s Family Diner, in San Angelo. I was a student at UT-Austin on a semester-long journalism class assignment. I had planned to write a profile of the public servant who had abandoned his city for a new life with his then-boyfriend, Eduardo Mora, in San Miguel de Allende. I found a story of sacrifice and love. We sat in the corner of the diner for hours, talking over cup after cup of coffee. He’d brought along a folder containing his itinerary for the weekend, “The Great West Texas Adventure Part 2,” and his wedding album. He told me about meeting Mora in the same way he met me. Mora was a student at Angelo State University. His assignment: interview someone whose job you want. That kick-started a romance that led to Lown eventually departing for Mexico to be with Mora, who had been living in the U.S. for five years without the proper documentation. They wed on November 16, 2013, and lived together in San Miguel until Lown’s death. 

The last time I saw Lown—at a March party in San Angelo celebrating the arrival of rodeo season—he seemed happy to be back. Although he was spending more and more time in Mexico, he was adamant that Texas was home and that he and Mora would eventually return full-time. For all that he embodied to San Angelo—acceptance, empathy, drive, and faith in love—I hoped he would someday see his dream come true, for him and for the small city he changed forever. In a post shared earlier today on Facebook, Mora noted how Lown had loved both his San Angelo and San Miguel communities, and “how deeply grateful he was that his love was reciprocated.”

You can read more about Lown’s time as mayor in this 2009 story by my colleague John Spong. In the story, you’ll see a man starting a remarkable postpolitical journey—one that ended far too soon.