Steve Lowery, 1953-2007
By Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
Remarks at memorial service in Lebanon, Ky., May 8, 2007
Steve Lowery was a son of the Motor City but he became a rural Kentuckian and was one of the best rural journalists I've ever known.
What made him a great rural journalist? First, he was a great journalist, period. He could report, write, edit, take pictures and put it all together in a newspaper with the best of them. As our friend Max Heath has said, he had all the right instincts, tenacity, passion for the business and professional leadership.
He was recognized by his peers as a leader, one of the youngest presidents the Kentucky Press Association ever had. When he went to The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown, he started a cable TV news channel. He was a great manager of people and developer of talent, I think because he was a people person. He was always curious about what made someone tick.
But it takes a special person to be a great rural journalist. It's more difficult to be an ethical, forthright and aggressive journalist in a small town than in a big city, because you have to be ready to defend yourself at every turn. When you walk out the door of your office, you might run into the person about whom you wrote a critical editorial. In a small town, there's much less seperation of the personal and the professional.
The best rural editors play two institutional roles: that of the journalist, independent to a fault, and the role of civic leader. You must be willing to call them as you see them, show courage and speak truth to power. But whatever passion you show in criticizing what you think is wrong, you must show that same passion in promoting what you think is right.
Steve did both -- and he did it, to be frank, in a place where that may have been a little more difficult than most. He held up a mirror to Lebanon and Marion County. He helped this place face its problems, and in doing so he helped it realize its potential. He was always urging me to come to [Marion County Country] Ham Days, and always disappointed in those years I didn't show up. He wanted me to see Lebanon at its best, and he wanted this place, his adopted home, to be its best.
I believe that when Steve left the Lebanon Enterprise 20 years ago -- and the fact we have such a good crowd tonight is testimony to his impact -- that he left Lebanon and Marion County a better place, and he could take some credit for that. That could be a great epitaph for any newspaper editor, but especially one in a small town.
Journalists kid about all the awards we give ourselves, probably because few people who aren't journalists are motivated to honor us. And because it's supposed to be independent, journalism doesn't give or receive many awards in the civic sector. But I think there should be an award for journalists who both excel in their profession and their role as community leaders. Steve should have received such an award.
As Max Heath said, Steve wrote plainspoken editorials that showed conviction and supported the good with the same vigor that he criticized the bad. I think Max summed it up well: "The newspaper business needs more people like Steve Lowery at his best."
The following story was written by the publisher of the Central Kentucky News-Journal for its parent firm, Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. of Shelbyville, Ky., a subsidiary of Landmark Communications.
By Richard RoBards
Landmark News Service
The sign on his office wall read: "The issue is flood control, the story is Noah."
Steve Lowery stalked Noah stories for most of his journalistic life.
That life ended April 29 when the 54-year-old former publisher of The Lebanon Enterprise died at his home in Colorado. The coroner in Westciffe, Colo. said Lowery died of natural causes. The coroner estimated his time of death as Sunday night.
"He called it just like he saw it," friend Jimmy Hidgon said. "There was no gray area with Steve Lowery."
Former fellow journalist and friend John Bramel said Lowery could convince most people of just about anything."He could say a mountain could be moved and, if challenged, he'd move it."
Lowery came to Kentucky with some big-city Detroit roots, but quickly accepted the heritage and traditions that make the Central Kentucky area so appealing -- bluegrass music, interesting personalities, a
wheelbarrow full of photo opportunities and sour mash. Both his parents were born and raised in Kentucky and he had several relatives in the state helping him with the transition. He graduated from Murray State University and took his first job in Campbellsville, where he spent four years, the last two, as news editor at the Central Kentucky News-Journal.
Al Cross, a former Courier-Journal bureau chief and now director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said he and Lowery became friends even though Cross had beaten him out of an early-career job with a paper owned by the legendary Al Smith.
"He was unquestionably one of the best weekly newspaper editors I have ever known, and an excellent photographer."
In 1979, Lowery sat foot in Marion County for the first time as managing editor and remained until 1987 when he left to become> publisher of the Kentucky Standard in Bardstown. Eighteen years after he left Lebanon his daughter, Stevie, was named editor/general manager, a position she continues to hold. "My father's passion for the newspaper business was undeniable," Stevie Daugherty said. "I can only hope that one day I will be half the journalist he was. I have and always will look up to him for what he accomplished."
"Steve Lowery was a brilliant, tenacious newsman with all the best instincts to enforce the public's right to know, uncover wrongdoing and report it fearlessly," said Max Heath, who worked with Lowery as the former executive editor of LCNI, and as regional manager for several years. "He editorialized plainly and with conviction, all the> while loving the community he lived in and supporting the good when things were going right with the same vigor he showed indignation toward those who were not doing good. He cared for the people who worked for him, was innovative to embrace new print products and cable TV, and creative not only with his photography but in his approach to community newspapering. The newspaper business needs more people like Steve at his very best."
Higdon said Lowery preferred to work behind the scenes, massaging pet projects through his writings and committee assignments. Higdon's wife, Jane, was the first director of Ham Days and later became executive director of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. She said Lowery's influence on the annual festival is still visible.
"He had a lot of great ideas, one being that we needed to bring better entertainment to Marion County - entertainment that our people may not have been exposed to. He was a strong editor and he didn't mind dealing with controversy.He had the personality to deal with it, too."
Nancy Tatum, who worked with Lowery when she was administrative assistant at the Chamber, said Lowery worked tirelessly and always had the community's best interest at heart.
"He loved our community," Tatum said. "He was fair and he always looked at everybody's viewpoint before offering one of his own."
Bramel says his friend was a newspaperman of the grandest sort who adopted Marion County as his home. "He maintained that to the bitter end," Bramel said. "If you asked him where he was from, he'd say Marion County, Ky."
An avid backpacker and photographer, Lowery was always in search of the interesting, if not impossible, photo opportunity. One of his most famous efforts (that may be hanging in several hundred homes in the county) is the photo of the last train through Loretto with the St. Francis Church as a backdrop.
"That was planned. He thought that out and waited for a long time to get the train and background in just the right positions," Bramel said.
Terry Ward, who was on the city council and was city administrator when Lowery came to town, said he was a "model of a good journalist. I respected him as a journalist. He knew where the boundaries were
> and he honored those boundaries," said Ward."I liked his writing, but his photography was just outstanding."
Ward says he also learned people skills from Lowery's management style and skill with people. "He always said people will talk about you, but they'll only talk about you for about two weeks. I remember that to this day."
One of Lowery's ideas led to the creation of PLG-TV after he moved to Bardstown, a cable-access channel associated with the newspaper there.
He worked tirelessly with the Kentucky Press Association and was president of the statewide organization at one time. He was a member of a taskforce to rewrite the state's open meetings and open records laws. He was also the impetus behind the KPA's successful Legal Defense Fund and in starting a KPA internship program. David Thompson, executive director of KPA said: "He asked one simple question that led to our internship program. At a board meeting, he asked where our scholarship recipients are [after graduation]. Not knowing, I researched it and found that about 95 percent of them were not in the newspaper business."
Lowery was an award-winner for his writing, photography and the product he and his staff produced and was recognized for those efforts on a regular basis. His efforts were recognized by Landmark Community Newspapers (The Enterprise's parent company) as well. In 1992, he received the company's President's Award for Community Service.
Lowery affected many lives and his successful hires still dot the Landmark landscape. Teresa Rice, former publisher in Lebanon and now in Tell City, Ind., credits her former boss with impacting her career. "It's a cliché but true, without Steve Lowery my life would not have been the same," Rice said. "He made me believe in myself when I was a young writer and editor. I would not be a publisher and regional manager today if it hadn't been for his guidance and devotion at the beginning of my career."
Lowery's remains were cremated and a memorial service was held May 8 at Bosley Funeral Home in Lebanon. He is survived by his daughters, Stevie Lowery Daugherty and her husband, Eric, and Rachel Lowery, and a grandson, Owen, all of Lebanon.