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July 18, 2007


George Archibald

by George Archibald

There are few people in one’s life who touch you right to the core of your values, intellect, and emotions.

Edwin Stewart McDowell was such a man, editor of the editorial pages for titan publisher Eugene C. Pulliam at The Arizona Republic for many years. He hired as an editorial writer, op-ed pages make-up editor, and letters-to-the-editor editor at The Republic after I left the U.S. Air Force as newspaper editor at Williams Air Force Base near Chandler, Arizona, the nation’s largest undergraduate pilot training base at the height of the Vietnam War.

McDowell was a nice, elegant, and patient man who wore a wig because he lost his hair quite early in life, after he left the Marines.

Ed had to scold me early in my time at The Republic because he said I was re-writing letters-to-the-editor too heavily to correct not only grammar but making the letters flow better with prose and arguments.

Ed called me into his office. “Stop rewriting letters,” he told me. “Correct obvious misspellings, grammar, and punctuation, but let the people say what they say without changes. The whole point of a letter to the editor is for readers to say what they want to say. Only edit out profanity, libel or slander. Correct misspelling. Other than that, we want the people’s voices in the letters column. They don’t like being rewritten. That’s why I’ve called you in. I’ve had complaints about your rewriting, so do you understand these rules?”

Yes, I did.

Whew. My first chewing out, but done in such a graceful and supporting way, a learning experience I shall never forget. Ed McDowell was a lovely man, like a father to all us young writers.

my editor and boss for four years after I left the Air Force until he departed The Republic to join Bob Bartley on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page in 1971, was such a man.

Ed’s departure in 1972 to join Bob Bartley on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page was very rough for me and fellow editorial writer Dexter Duggan, Ed’s secretary Eleanor Fiedler, chief editor Fritz Marquardt, chief researcher “Big John” Dougherty, and columnist/copy editor “Doc” Julian DeVries, who practiced medicine for all of us without a license. Ed was our boss, mentor, best friend, and chief inspiration every day.

He wrote crisply and always rang a bell with his pieces. There was a cadence in his writing that inspired you to read to the very end. And he always punched it out of the ballpark.

The late Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona once told me that Ed McDowell’s book about him, “Barry Goldwater: Portrait of an Arizonan,” was the best anyone had written about him, and Senator Goldwater remarked I was very fortunate to have started my newspaper career under such a capable reporter, wordsmith, editor, and one of the most decent men he had ever met.

Senator Goldwater truly admired and respected Ed McDowell, and Ed felt the same way about the man who was then the conscience of American libertarian conservatism.

That’s not the half of it. Ed McDowell was not only a man of high values and tough editor. He also was a kind and gentle soul, a man who valued similar souls and nurtured us every day with his kindness and tremendous talents as a newspaperman.

He was hired from The Wall Street Journal by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, titaln publisher of The New York Times, as publisher’s correspondent, where for years he reported and wrote about the global publishing industry for The New York Times until his illness after many mini-strokes forced his retirement.

He was so in love with his bride from Japan, Sathie Akimoto. I used to watch them as they adored each other’s company, because at the time I was attracted to a young friend, Noriko Wakabayashi, from Tokyo, who was the college roommate of a colleague of mine at The Republic who was a lot of fun, April Daen, a liberal-feminist red-head on the women’s page who made fun of my conservative views, and taunted me with her vitality. We flirted quite obviously and got a lot of ribbing from newspaper colleagues as Mr. Cool and Miss Hot.

April and Noriko went to Hollins College, now a university, near Roanoke Virginia. Oddly enough, my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, 18, a beautiful rider, and just graduated from high school, will be a freshman this coming fall at Hollins, on the equestrian team. A circle closes sometimes in a lovely way.

Noriko died a few years after leaving America, a tragic result of an unwanted pregnancy by a boy she met at one of April’s parties, a forced abortion when her father ordered her back to Japan, and mental illness thereafter.

I took Noriko to National Airport in Washington for that fateful journey home in 1974, and never saw her again. It was one of the most difficult goodbyes of my life. I wish in retrospect I had not let Noriko go back to Japan.

But retrospect is also appreciation for dear souls who touch and benefit us in our lives.

Noriko was one, and Ed McDowell was certainly one. Sathie, Ed’s mate for many years and mother of their three lovely now-adult children, is definitely in the same mold.

I’m sad that for the past 20 years I fell out of touch with Ed, because he was an amazing influence and mentor in my early career as a newspaperman, and I am ever so grateful to him for all he taught me.

When Ed was getting ready to leave The Arizona Republic, he came to my desk and handed me a column to be copyread and set in type.

In those days, we had a vacuum tube outside my office where we sent copy down to the basement for typesetting after I did my editing and placed instructions for typeface, et cetera.. It was my job to get galley-proofs of all pieces after typesetting for Ed’s final touches. And sign-off.

Ed’s typewritten column titled “Fond Farewell to Arizona” was, quite frankly, the toughest edit in all my years at The Republic. I broke down and wept at my desk when I read his heartfelt descriptions of the Sedona red-rock country, his love of the desert cactus vistas, rushing waters of the Verde Valley, wide openness of the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, Grand Canyon, and White Mountain country. A dear friend and father-figure was leaving us. It was a huge moment in our lives.

Ed’s successor as editorial page editor at The Republic was Pat Murphy, formerly a newspaper editor and radio talk-show host in Florida, who sadly didn’t hold a candle to Ed’s razor-sharp intellectual and writing abilities. We lost Tiffany quality at our helm and got K-Mart instead. It was a big disappointment. But rising mediocrity in newspapers is a habit, particularly in the Gannett newspaper chain that acquired the Republic and other Pulliam newspapers several years ago.

Life is a series of uplifting moments and disappointments that cause one to move on in the face of mediocrity.

Ed McDowell was one of the towering newspapermen, an uplifting moment in lives of many who knew and worked with him – a magnificent mind, razor-sharp reporter and writer, friendly, kind, generous, a gentle and grateful soul who shone on all around him.


Richard Grayson

Thank you, George. It's really an honor to have this full tribute by a journalist of your caliber. I'm glad you could write about Edwin McDowell in a way that I of course could not. Thanks again.

Andre Shoumatoff

I found this post by searching for Edwin McDowell through a google search. I was lucky to have known him and his wife and his son while I was growing up because my Dad and he were friends. It was and will always be a true privilege having known him and as I dive into the internet to have read some of his articles, recognizing what a skilled writer and reporter he was. Thanks for posting this.

Donnaa Bell Zimmer

Ed McDowell was my Journalism Professor at Arizona State University and he was a man that I greatly admired. He was a mentor and he was a friend. We lost track of each other a number of years ago. Tonight, out of the blue I thought of him and wondered what he was doing...so I search for him on the internet. Unfortunately, his obituary was what I found. I was so sorry that Alzheimer's disease was the cause of his death. He was such a vibrant, intelligent, kind man and my life was brightened by his presence in it. God Bless You, Ed! You will never be forgotten.

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