One day in the early 1950s my childhood buddy Ann Webb fixed me up with a blind date -- mainly so I could meet her new and very serious boyfriend/soon-to-be husband, who turned out to be Charley McDowell. From then until he died last week, Charley was at the top of my favorite-people list. He is, in fact, still on that list even if not of this world.
Here are a few paragraphs lifted from the New York Times obituary:
"Charles McDowell, a retired columnist for The Richmond Times-Dispatch who brought a folksy manner to a regular stint on the PBS program “Washington Week in Review” and to a prominent role in Ken Burns’s PBS series “The Civil War,” died Friday. He was 84.
"Television viewers knew him from frequent appearances on a variety of PBS programs, including “Summer of Judgment: The Watergate Hearings,” for which he was the writer, narrator and host.
"In the acclaimed film “The Civil War,” first broadcast in 1990, he appeared on camera as a genial commentator with a wide grin and a deep drawl and off-camera as the voice of Samuel Watkins, a Confederate soldier from Tennessee, reading excerpts from Watkins’s battlefield letters.
"Mr. McDowell is also heard in the Burns documentaries “Baseball” (1994) and “The Congress” (1988). He wrote three books, including “Campaign Fever,” a diary of the 1964 presidential election.
"Mr. McDowell spent 18 years as a panelist on “Washington Week in Review,” starting in 1978. In an article in The New York Times about the program in 1984, John Corry wrote: “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.”
All this time and before, Charley wrote a syndicated column that appeared from 1954 until his retirement in 1998. His columns reflected who he was: A gifted writer, a wry wit, an irrepressible lover of humankind. A day before he died, Ann told me, though barely conscious when someone came in the room he would still reach out his hand in greeting -- because he was also Southern Gentleman to the core.
No one will ever replace him.
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