Vale Rossy Rotor: the Pilbara mourns ‘friend, best mate, legend, hero, loving husband, proud loving father’

Kelly BellNorth West Telegraph
Ross McDowell with daughter Sophie and wife Chrissie.
Camera IconRoss McDowell with daughter Sophie and wife Chrissie. Credit: North West Telegraph

Sitting in the courtyard of his Port Hedland home on Sunday afternoon, friends and family laughed as they remembered the well-lived life of a man who changed things for the Pilbara pastoral community and touched the hearts of all he met during three decades of Pilbara life.

As word spread on Wednesday morning that Ross McDowell, helicopter pilot of 40 years and master musterer, was missing, 11 choppers from stations across the region entered the skies to search for the man many considered the godfather of the Pilbara pastoral industry.

Rossy Rotor, as he was affectionately known, was a mentor to the young, a friend to many and a true “eccentric” Pilbara character rarely seen without his hat, who had snatched the prestigious title of Beau of Marble Bar Race Ball from men half his age, two years running.

Fellow pilot and employee at Rossy Rotor Aviation Jason Campbell said although heartbreaking, last week’s search was one of the most moving days he’d had as a pilot.

“To be taking off with ten other Pilbara pilots and a plane over head who had all dropped everything at the first word that Rossy was missing,” he said.

“To all come together and look for a friend, best mate, legend, hero, loving husband, proud loving father, Beau of the Ball (twice) Rossy Rotor.

“It made me proud to be part of the Pilbara and part of Rossy’s life.”

By Wednesday evening, as the horrible news of his death spread across the North, an outpouring of grief, of stories, of Rossi-isms and love spread across social media for the man whose legacy was to achieve his dreams.

Yarrie Station worker Graydn Doak, whose family knew Rossy for 20 years and was involved in the search, said the Pilbara was reminded last week that even “heroes aren’t invincible”.

“The turn-out at the search was testament to how respected and loved Rossy was,” he said.

“A hero to myself and many others, so greatly remembered for his one of a kind character, massive experience, his honesty, generosity and how much advice he passed on.

“The Pilbara will never forget him, the hills and the flats will forever ring out ‘motorcar, motorcar, motorcar’.”

On Sunday, Mr McDowell’s life-partner and “dearie” of 28 years, Chrissie, and daughter Sophie recalled his Rossi-isms, little characteristics that had come to define him.

Mrs McDowell said he was known for his massive appetite and hatred of sausages, which he deemed “heart attack tucker”.

She said when travelling between stations and in need of a feed he would radio ahead with the phrase: “Rossy Rotor, Rossy Rotor, Rossy Rotor, potato, potato, potato, whoop, whoop, whoop” to notify the station he would be arriving shortly after for dinner.

She remembered a man who loved young people, who saw the potential in every one, who was the first person to bring helicopters to the Pilbara for mustering in 1985 and who had clocked up almost 40,000 hours doing what he loved.

“We had an awesome time, so great the memories, how blessed am I to have had this eccentric man in my life,” she said.

“He loved what he did and to have realised your dream is his legacy.”

Sophie recalled a father, who ate all the leftovers in the fridge mixed together in one bowl, who saw the world in his own quirky way and who once named their triathlon team ‘Rossy Rotor Rooters”.

She said he was one of the few people who was truly comfortable with his place in life, he had found his passion, his purpose and his people.

“He was great at finding humour in seemingly mundane things and his jokes were often cryptic and unusual but very clever,” she said.

“Listening to people talk about him and the way he touched their lives, I have come to realise that some of the things I loved about him, and that made him special to me, made him special to others.

“He loved the Pilbara and the pastoral community and he never wanted to leave.

“He was a legend to many…but to me he was just my silly old dad and I couldn’t have been prouder.”

Moving through the home she had shared with Rossy Rotor, his beloved dingo Frank at her feet Mrs McDowell was surrounded by bunches and bunches of flowers, physical representations of support from across the region, state, country and world.

Mrs McDowell said would forever be indebted to the 11 pilots – Weldon, Niffy, Jason, Brent, Scotty, Graydn, Dave, Justin, Lise, Matt and Damien – who gave Rossy his final, very own air show and made sure he came home one last time.

Sophie thanked the community for the care and love the family had received from the moment her father went missing.

“We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support that we have received from the community,” she said.

“Although we miss him terribly, being able to see how much people care about us and how much they loved him has helped us immensely.”

Arthur Percy Ross McDowell was 62.

He is survived by his wife, daughter, two sisters, two brothers and a legion of people who consider themselves lucky to have known Rossy Rotor.

For much more on Ross’s life, details of his memorial, and a poem written about his life, pick up this week’s North West Telegraph, pages 1, 4 and 5.

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