Charley McDowell ’48, 1926-2010

Charley McDowell '48 (Richmond Times-Dispatch photo)

Shortly after the news broke on Friday that Charles R. McDowell Jr., Washington and Lee Class of 1948, had died from complications of a stroke, several of his former colleagues on the Richmond Times-Dispatch were retelling stories about Charley and summing up his role as a newspaperman for almost half a century.

One especially apt assessment in today’s Times-Dispatch came from Bill Millsaps, longtime sports editor and later executive editor of the paper. Said Millsaps of Charley: “He always left open the possibility that he could be wrong, and people trusted him because of that.”

Charley was a faculty kid at W&L before he was a student here. His father, Charles R. McDowell, is widely regarded as the most beloved law professor in the history of W&L’s School of Law. His mother, Catherine McDowell, worked as a secretary to the law dean. In his final column for the Times-Dispatch, Charley tells about growing up in Lexington, attending W&L and being hired at the newspaper in 1949. He also relates the pivotal role the late Lea Booth ’40, former W&L PR man, played in his hiring. The Times-Dispatch reprinted that column on Saturday, and it’s well worth the read because no one can tell that story, or any story, like Charley could. The bottom line was that Lea got Charley an interview at the T-D after Charley finished graduate school at Columbia. And when it appeared that the editor might not hire Charley, Lea Booth told the editor “without a pause or a wisp of accuracy that a competitive newspaper was about to sign me.”

Another excellent way to remember Charley is to look back at a series of his more memorable columns, which the Times-Dispatch has collected on this page.

Charley became known well beyond Virginia’s borders by way of his role on PBS’ “Washington Week in Review,” where he was a panelist for 18 years. In the New York Times’ piece on Charley’s death, there is mention of a 1984 story about his role on that program in which the writer, John Corry, described Charley this way: “Mr. McDowell apparently has covered Washington for some time, and when he is not sitting in one of Mr. Duke’s chairs, one supposes he perches on a cracker barrel. Abetted by his colleagues, he comes close to being a raconteur.”

Back in September, we blogged about Charley’s donation of his papers to the Library of Virginia, and last February, as we faced yet another snowstorm in Lexington, we also wrote about a column in the Times-Dispatch that recounted Charley’s famous annual musings about the month of February.

The graveside service for Charley will be on Friday, Nov. 12, at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington.

3 Responses to “Charley McDowell ’48, 1926-2010”

  1. 1 Jeff Hanna November 10, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Early fall of 1946 was the start of basketball season for Charley McDowell,Chris Compton, George
    Pierson and myself. The four of us would use Doremus Gym as our private court to play 2 on 2  at
    many crazy hours to sharpen our shooting skills for the regular season. While W & L was not a
    powerhouse in the Southern Conference we got to see some of the better teams in the country.
    Charley had a unique dribbling style that reminded me of the Harlem Globtrotters and would not be
    too acceptable in today’s game. We had fun and Charley made sure that we did not become too
    cocky about our skills.
    Speaking about skills; Charley’s writing ability was top notch and we should be happy that his
    life gave us all such pleasure.
                                         Bruce Parkinson
                                         W&L 50

  2. 2 sandy harman November 10, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    let us not forget that his father charles mcdowell sr was a long time professor at W & L’s law school….the family had a long tradition with our school

  3. 3 Ned Burks November 8, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Rest in peace, Charley. You did your alma mater proud.

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