Monday, December 10, 2007

Dick McGowan, A Great Fighter And A Great Man, 1930-2007

NY Daily News Reporter, Watergate Investigator
Took No Prisoners In Hard-Hitting Coverage

Wrote For Connecticut Magazine
About His Watergate Work
With Sen. Lowell Weicker

Also Served With Congressman Bob Steele

Richard J. McGowan, a former prize winning reporter, combat correspondent, New York Daily News White House correspondent, Congressional investigator and press secretary and public affairs director with six Federal agencies died December 10, 2007. He was 77 years old.

He lived in Wicomico, Va., with his wife of 34 years, Ellen and Max the Wonder Dog.

Born in Flushing, N.Y., McGowan covered the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations as a newsman and concluded a 30-year career in the nation's capital as a political appointee in the Reagan and Bush Administrations. He was the first communications director for the old Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, DEA's predecessor. He held similar public affairs and congressional liaison posts with the U.S. Customs Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, Action, the former national volunteer agency, the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of Personnel Management.

Along the way, he was known for providing unselfish help and encouragement to young reporters and later as a recognized news source whose honesty was widely respected.

Since his 1994 retirement to Wicomico in Gloucester County, Va., McGowan taught classes on presidents, politics and the press for the Lifelong Learning Program at Christopher Newport University. He also taught classes at Old Dominion University and the College of William and Mary's Christopher Wren Society. He also became a regular book reviewer for The Daily Press. In addition, he served as Vice Chairman of the Gloucester Republican Committee, deputy director of the Regional Taxpayers Association and as a member of Gloucester's Industrial Development Authority. He co-chaired Delegate Jo Ann Davis' successful 2000 campaign for Congress and worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of James Gilmore and Mark Earley.

In 2007, he edited "The Full Golf Swing: Sequence of Power" by Jimmy Murphy.

He attended New York University, Glendale College, Loyola University, Valley College, the Armed Forces Information School and the Federal Executive Institute. McGowan's journalistic leanings were whetted putting out the weekly newspaper at Fordham Prep.

He worked as a general assignment reporter and sports writer for the old Hollywood Citizen-News while attending Loyola University and Valley College in the Los Angeles area. He was a stringer for a half-dozen newspapers in the San Fernando Valley.

McGowan served as a combat correspondent with the 7th Infantry Division during the Korean conflict. His stories appeared mainly in Stars &Stripes and the Army Times. But he brought the frontlines to the front porch with combat stories about hometown GIs furnished directly to San Fernando Valley newspapers.

In 1954, he returned to New York and took the first newspaper job available as a copy boy on the New York Daily News, then the largest circulation newspaper in America. By 1961, he had worked as a copy editor, national and foreign news editor and assistant
news editor, as well as reporter and feature writer, winning journalism's prestigious Silurian Award in 1959 for an expose of the pornography racket. Early in 1962, he was selected to be the NEWS' White House correspondent.

For the next 30 years, McGowan covered presidents and politics, the Congress and assorted federal agencies as a newsman, or worked for presidents and politicians and the government as a public affairs director. He became one of the most respected news sources in a town of leaks and false leads.

As a newsman he forecast the ouster of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell from the House of Representatives; Lyndon Johnson's eventual selection of Hubert Humphrey as his Vice President; the surprise election of I.W. Abel to head the United Steelworkers and Edmund (Pat) Brown's unexpected defeat of Richard Nixon for the California Governorship in 1962. He shocked the Kennedy Administration with an exclusive that the first, ballyhooed test ban treaty was contingent on a massive trade pact with the Soviet Union. The White House initially denounced the story but less than two months later announced the signing of a major wheat deal with the Soviets.

McGowan drew President Johnson's wrath early on with an exclusive story picturing Johnson as "strong in domestic policy; weak in foreign policy." McGowan had unearthed a Johnson ordered USIA assessment by foreign leaders of his first months in office. After McGowan's story appeared, Johnson ordered thousands of copies of the report destroyed.

In 1968, McGowan decided it was time to switch careers. He had covered everything from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King; congressional hearings and political campaigns, the success of the civil rights movement to Johnson's refusal to seek reelection; riots, radicals and rogues and the changing morals of America. It was time to move on, partly for economic reasons.

He loved to regale young journalists with the story of awakening one morning to discover he was the second highest paid reporter in the Washington Bureau of the largest newspaper in America and was making the kingly 1968 salary of $12,500 a year. The Hill, and a substantial raise, beckoned.

McGowan worked for Rep.John M.Murphy (D-N.Y.) who briefly ran for Mayor of New York; Rep. Robert F. Steele (R-Ct.) and Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Ct.). McGowan directed Steele's 1971 expose of the "The World Heroin Problem" which resulted in national headlines, Congressional hearings and a spate of anti-drug legislation. He left the Hill briefly for the old Bureau of Narcotics &Dangerous Drugs before joining forces with then Sen. Lowell P. Weicker (R-Ct.).

McGowan became Weicker's chief investigator for the Senator's independent probe of the Watergate scandal. The former newsman unearthed the in-hiding John Dean who was a catalyst in bringing down the Nixon Administration. After interviewing Dean at a secret locale, Weicker became the driving force on a divided Senate Watergate Committee and McGowan became the chief source for hundreds of newspeople covering the scandal. While the White House and Nixon partisans on the committee poured out reams of disinformation, McGowan daily provided the press corps with an accurate litany of crimes and abuses that eventually resulted in impeachment hearings by the House of Representatives.

He published a story in Connecticut Magazine several years ago about his adventures with Weicker.

After Watergate, he moved on to federal service. He left the career ranks in 1985 to join the Reagan Administration. McGowan retired in January, 1993, after winning a number of awards in a 27-year government career that concluded as a member of the Senior Executive Service. He was a member of the Federal Executive Institute Alumni Association, the Reagan-Bush and Bush-Quayle Alumni Associations, Sigma Delta Chi, the National Press Club and Springfield Golf &Country Club and Williamsburg Country Club.

An avid golfer, he won the National Press Club's annual golf tournament in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1987, as well as local tournaments at Springfield G&C.

There will be a celebration of his life at the McGowan home on Saturday, December 15 at 1:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, make a donation to your favorite charity or the American Cancer Society.

No comments: