“TIGER” TED LOWRY PASSES
Obituary written by Mike Silver
It is with sadness that I report the passing of my friend, the great Ted Lowry on Monday June 14th. Ted’s heart gave out. He was 90 years old. I use the word great in describing him not so much for his extraordinary boxing career but for the type of man he was and the quality of his character. Any of us who were fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of meeting Ted and getting to know him will agree. He was an intelligent, kind and generous individual, who treated everyone he met with genuine warmth and respect.
Ted was a member of what is referred to today as America’s greatest generation. He was born October 27, 1919 in New Haven, Connecticut, but grew up in Portland, Maine. In high school he excelled in every sport he ever tried, winning letters in track, football, basketball and baseball. He was even the state agate marbles champion and runner-up in the national tournament.
Ted Lowry began boxing professionally in 1939, at the age of 19, to help support his mother and siblings. Even though he had a limited amateur career Ted was such a natural he was fighting main events by his eighth pro fight. He never had another preliminary fight for the rest of his 144 bout career. Ted was fortunate to have an excellent trainer in Panama Roy Brooks, a former New England featherweight champion in the 1920s who was trained by the great Jack Johnson. Brooks taught Lowry many of the defensive maneuvers that Johnson had used to keep himself virtually untouched during his 25 year ring career. Lowry learned the lessons well. He never took a beating and was mentally sharp and active into his late 80s. When Ted was 86 years old I interviewed him for my book and if I had never met him could not have guessed that he had ever been a pro fighter, let alone one with 144 pro bouts to his credit. His speech was articulate and crisp and his memory of his fights astounding. He looked and acted like someone 30 years younger.
Lowry was a well muscled light heavyweight of stocky build who stood 5’ 10” and tipped the beam between 165 and 180 pounds. In the first four years of his career (1939-1943) he kept up a schedule that is hard to believe today but was standard operating procedure for many fighters of his era. In the 45 months before he joined the Army he engaged in 68 professional fights, winning 42, losing 22 with 4 draws. A heavy puncher, Lowry flattened 31 opponents and was never stopped or even knocked down during this time. He lost to the more experienced Coley Welch, Vince Pimpinella, Eddie Pierce (twice) and the feared heavyweight Lee Q. Murray (who outweighed him by 20 pounds).
Ted was often thrown in against heavyweights although he rarely scaled more than 175 pounds. In 1943 he drew with heavyweight contender Eddie Blunt. Outweighed by 40 pounds, Lowry still managed to drop his 6’ 3” opponent.
In examining Ted’s record one cannot help but notice a curious pattern. He would knock out an opponent and then in the rematch drop the decision. Or he would lose a decision to an ordinary fighter and then flatten the same opponent easily when they fought again. This could have several explanations; he was always available and sometimes would be called to substitute for another fighter on a days notice. He always kept in shape but the extremely busy schedule he kept would be hard for any fighter to maintain a consistency of performance. The other explanation is that as a Black fighter trying to make a living and often fighting in an opponent’s backyard he was robbed dozens of times, or perhaps promised more bouts if he cooperated and tried not to knock out the local favorite. Ted once told me that of his 67 losses in 144 fights, he believed he actually lost only 23. I have come across a number of Ring magazine accounts of his fights which decry unfair decisions against him. I have no doubt what he said was true.
Like millions of other patriotic Americans Ted answered the call to arms during World War II. When he heard that the Army was starting its first all black paratrooper unit Ted was quick to volunteer. After a thorough vetting process he was admitted to the elite 555th parachute battalion, nicknamed “The Triple Nickels”.
Extensive training at Fort Bragg followed and included over 30 practice jumps. While in the Army Ted was asked to box an exhibition with heavyweight champion Joe Louis who was touring with a USO troupe. He always considered that exhibition with “Big Red” (as Louis was called by fellow Black soldiers) the top highlight of his entire boxing career. After the three round bout Louis told him he had the potential of a champion and could go all the way in boxing. Those words spoken by the great Joe Louis inspired and motivated him to continue boxing if he survived the war.
Ted (now a sergeant) and his fellow soldiers were eager to join the fight and be shipped over to Europe. To their disappointment the battalion was never shipped overseas. Instead they were used on a stateside secret mission that only recently became public knowledge. During the last year of the war Japan launched hundreds of balloons carrying high explosive incendiary bombs and aimed them at the U.S. The balloons were intended to follow the Pacific Ocean jet stream to the west coast of the United States and spread terror and destruction when they hit the ground and exploded. Dozens of these balloons actually made it to the west coast and beyond. Fortunately they landed in unpopulated areas but the explosions started massive forest fires. One family picnicking in an Oregon forest was killed by one of these explosions.
The government did not want to start a panic or let the Japanese warlords know that some balloons had gotten through, so the public never knew about the fires. The 555th was given a quick course in fire fighting and was parachuted into the forests to try and stop the fires from spreading. They soon acquired a new nickname “Smoke Jumpers”. Their success in accomplishing the mission was not revealed until the 1970s. A documentary called “Smoke Jumpers”, made in the 1990s and hosted by General Colin Powell, tells the story of the 555th all black parachute battalion.
Upon his discharge Ted picked up where he had left off in his boxing career. His problem was that he had all the talent in the world but not the right managerial connections to maneuver him up the ladder. But what he did have was Sam Silverman, New England’s premier boxing promoter, who used him constantly. At least Ted could be guaranteed to have a steady income fighting every two or three weeks. His record reads like a who’s who of top heavyweights and light heavyweight of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Ted crossed gloves with the legendary “Tiger” Jack Fox (L-10), Aaron “Tiger” Wade (W-10), Lee Savold (D-10), Lee Oma (D-10, L-10), Roland La Starza (L-10), Jimmy Bivins (L-10), Jimmy Slade (L-10), Ceasar Brion (L-10), “Blackjack”Billy Fox (D-10,W-10).
In October 1949, in Providence, R.I. Lowry met a young Rocky Marciano. The Rock was undefeated, having knocked out 19 of 20 opponents. In the fourth round Rocky was staggered several times by Lowry’s right uppercuts. At the end of 10 rounds Marciano was awarded the decision but most spectators, including the reporter covering the fight for the Providence Rhode Island Journal thought Lowry deserved to win.
Eight months later Ted got one of his frequent calls to substitute for another fighter on short notice. The opponent was Rocky Marciano. Although Ted would have wanted more time to prepare for the re-match he couldn’t help but notice the tremendous improvement in the Rock’s technique. Ted lost the unanimous ten round decision but won Marciano’s everlasting respect. After the fight Rocky said, “I think Lowry would have gone the distance if we had fought a hundred times. I could never get use to his style of fighting.”
Ted’s style was mostly defensive, as he could not afford to get beat up or take too many chances if he was to continue his busy schedule of fighting once or twice every month. But there were times when he knew opportunity was knocking and he gave it his all. It was at these times that we saw what could have been and what Ted Lowry was capable of. In 1948 he fought future light heavyweight champion Archie Moore in Baltimore. After sampling a Moore left hook that nearly floored him in the first round, Ted proceeded to give the great fighter a hard fought battle. He lost a unanimous decision but won at least 3 rounds. In the write-up on the fight that appeared the next day in “The Baltimore Sun” the reporter wrote that the rounds that Moore won were closely contested and the scoring did not reflect how tough a fight it was for Moore whose eye was closed tight at the end.
In 1950 Ted took the New England heavyweight title from Bernie Reynolds in 12 rounds. And in one of his best performances, in 1952 in St. Paul, Minnesota, he fought light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim in a non-title bout and was robbed of a decision he clearly deserved to win. The fix was in for this one as Maxim’s next fight was against the great Sugar Ray Robinson. There was no way Ted was going to get the decision.
Ted was 35 years old when he decided to retire in 1955. His final stats were 66 wins (43 by KO), 67 losses (KO by 3), 10 draws and 1 no decision for a total of 144 professional fights. Only two fighters were able to stop him. He lost to the power punching heavyweight contender Lee Q. Murray in a bout that Ted thought was stopped prematurely. And he was knocked out by the always dangerous Rusty Payne in the 7th round. Ted had twice gone the distance with both of these murderous bangers in previous fights. There is one other KO loss on his record, to Harry Kid Mathews, that occurred late in Ted’s career. Let’s just say the fight was of dubious veracity and that questions still remain about that “knockout”.
Ted did not get the breaks he deserved during his lengthy career. The fact that he never fought in Madison Square Garden says it all. But he was never bitter. The only time I ever saw him come close to an expression of anger was when he recalled an experience in the Army while assigned to a base in the Southwest that also housed German prisoners of war. The busses that ferried soldiers and prisoners around the base required black soldiers to sit in the back but allowed the German POWs to sit up front.
After his ring career ended Ted operated his own construction business in Norwalk, Connecticut for many years. For the past 46 years he has had the love and support of his wife, Alice. She was fond of saying that in all that time they never had an argument.
Ted believed in contributing to the community. He coached boxing at his own Norwalk gym where he was a father figure to many young men who otherwise would have gone in the wrong direction. He received many civic awards for his work in combating juvenile delinquency. Work was always very important to Ted. He could not sit still and always wanted to remain active. In his late 80s he was working as a bus monitor for a local elementary school.
In 2007 Ted published his autobiography, titled “God’s In My Corner: A Portrait of An American Boxer” in which he describes, in his own words, his fascinating life story. That same year Ted was elected to the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame.
During his boxing career Ted was considered a reliable journeyman fighter, always in shape, and always counted on to go the distance. 144 fights! I considered him to be a boxing treasure—one of the last links to boxing’s great golden age of talent, activity and popularity. I believe the Ted Lowry that held his own with Archie Moore and was robbed of victory against Joey Maxim would have beaten any heavyweight or light heavyweight champion today. I was proud to call him my friend and proud and honored to have interviewed him for my book to which he added so much.
Ted is survived by his lovely Alice, children and grandchildren. Rest in peace my friend.