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.