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Veteran Ken Towery returns to Texas, newspapers, retires

By By JOHN COPPEDGE - SPECIAL TO THE ADVOCATE
Jan. 3, 2014 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 3, 2014 at 7:04 p.m.


Dr. John Coppedge, of Longview, grew up in Cuero, where he first became aware of the remarkable life story of Ken Towery, former Japanese prisoner of war, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and adviser to politicians and presidents. Coppedge wrote this four-part series.

Wednesday, Part 1: Ken Towery Japanese prisoner of war

Thursday, Part 2: Towery wins journalism's highest honor.

Friday, Part 3: Helping build the modern Republican Party.

Saturday, Part 4: Back to the newspaper business.

In the mid-1990s, Ken and Louise Towery returned to Texas from Washington, D.C., to the work he loved the most - the newspaper business.

Towery purchased a trio of small-town Texas newspapers in North Texas: The Floyd County Hesperian, The Lockney Beacon and The Crosby County News and Chronicle.

He is now fully retired.

But in 1994, Towery wrote his memoir - a book titled "The Chow Dipper."

In the book's foreword, conservative icon William F. Buckley wrote: "Towery was an utterly committed anti-Communist and anti-socialist. . All those who were ever associated with him were elevated by the experience, and like so many others, will enjoy and profit from reading his political odyssey."

The book is three books in one. The first part is about growing up in South Texas and his World War II experiences as a soldier and one of the few survivors of the Japanese prisoner of war camps.

The second part is about learning the newspaper business and winning the Pulitzer Prize by uncovering and reporting corruption in government.

The third part is the tale of his 40-year odyssey through Texas and national politics. He shares anecdotes about Lyndon Johnson, Paul Eggers, Ralph Yarborough, Jack Cox, Rita (Bass) Clements, Sam Rayburn, Bill Clements, Clayton Williams, Ted Kennedy, Will Wilson, Allan Shivers, John Connally, Waggoner Carr, Ben Barnes and Price Daniel, among others.

He also shares many insights into the man he worked for and with for so many years: John Tower. Towery spares few he thinks deserve criticism, but that criticism is muted except in the case of Tower's second wife, Lilla. He gives those with an interest in such matters a peek behind the curtain that answers many questions about the who, what, when, where and why surrounding campaigns and events that have shaped our state and nation.

Now 90, he and his wife live just south of downtown Austin in a quiet neighborhood. Oak trees shade the house.

Towery, like many of his generation, downplays his part in World War II. He said his actions were not particularly heroic, and he was simply doing what had to be done.

He is also modest when reflecting on his life's accomplishments.

Though many things are in his book, one story that he still tells was left out.

It happened in the days after Tower won the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated after Johnson became vice president in 1961.

Tower and his staff arrived at the vacant office assigned to him. The staff began the process of requisitioning desks, chairs, filing cabinets and other furnishings to set up the office.

The last filing cabinets that had been turned in to the senate storeroom had been in Johnson's office. They were sent to Tower.

Much to his surprise, Towery said, the cabinets still contained Johnson's old papers and correspondence. When he reported this to his boss, Tower said the papers should be sent back without reading them.

As Towery recalled it, Tower's words were, "A gentleman does not read another gentleman's mail."

Towery said he's certain such honorable behavior would never occur in today's U.S. Senate.

He sent the papers back unread. Such civility and respect for the institution was eventually cruelly rewarded when the Senate voted to reject Tower's nomination as secretary of defense.

As he prepares for the end of his life's journey, Towery said he has already selected his spot in the Texas State Cemetery and the inscription for his tombstone.

It will read: "The Chow Dipper" because, he said, that experience is the one from his long life of which he is most proud.

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