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Archive for December, 2018

Journalism attracts and produces some quirky personalities, and one such person was Giles Fowler, who spent 24 years at The Star before heading off into to a second lengthy career in academia.

He taught journalism for one year at Kansas State University and then moved on to Iowa State, where he spent more than 20 years before retiring in 2002.

Giles Fowler

I had heard earlier this month that Giles had died in Ames, IA, and his obituary finally appeared in The Star today. (The timing of an obit is strictly up to the family.)

The obit was as quirky and singular as Giles and perfectly befitting a colorful journalist. It began like this…

Giles Merrill Fowler, father, husband, journalist, author, teacher and cheerful troublemaker, died riding a deep and emphatically requested morphine wave Nov. 3 at Israel Family Hospice House in Ames. He spent most of 84 years indulging his appetites for life’s finer pleasures, particularly stimulating company and a bottle or four of the good stuff, with infectious verve and vigor. He fought the indignities of aging with a witty, vinegary constitution. The cause of his demise was a tooth infection that led to respiratory and cardiac complications.

Giles was married and divorced twice. His first wife, Jane Pecinovsky Fowler, lives in Overland Park. She also worked at The Star.

Richard B. Fowler

Fowler was a journalistic blue blood. His father, Richard B. Fowler, spent his career at The Star, ultimately rising to editor and president. I never met Richard Fowler; he retired in 1968, the year before I arrived in Kansas City. In retirement, Richard spent much of each year in Mexico but continued to contribute stories to The Star on the politics and economics of Mexico. While visiting Morelia, Mexico, he was killed in an automobile accident on August 19, 1978, at the age of 76.

The writer of Giles’ obit said, “Giles was doomed to follow his father into that disreputable but joyous trade.”

**

At The Star, Giles worked as a reporter, film and theater critic and, finally, as editor of the Sunday magazine, which for decades was a substantive and excellent publication.

I was never close with Giles, but he was one of those newsroom personalities who stood out. He was a relatively short man, wore tinted glasses, talked fast and moved around quickly — sort of like Groucho without the forward tilt.

The only significant interaction I ever had with Giles occurred in about 1979, a year after I had left the Jackson County Courthouse beat and had moved to the features section on the morning Kansas City Times. Over a period of a few years, I had written two or three freelance stories for the Sunday magazine (before Giles became its editor), and when a magazine writing position opened up, I was very interested. I applied, and Giles invited me for an interview at the magazine office, which was across 18th Street in what we used to call the Topsy building.

Going into the interview, I thought I was a virtual lock for the job. I couldn’t imagine who at the paper might beat me out.

I sat across the desk from Giles, and he leaned back casually and smoked a cigar as we chatted. Picking up on his demeanor, I got pretty casual myself. In fact, I had a cigar with me and pulled it out and lit it up…There we were, sitting across from each other, smoking cigars and chatting idly about who would fill a relatively important position that was up for grabs.

My feeling of self-content and confidence soon began to ebb, however, when Giles started talking about another reporter who had applied for the job. He didn’t name the other reporter but said something like, “He’s a very sensitive writer.”

I couldn’t imagine who he was talking about, but as he went on about that reporter, my cigar started losing its lustrous aroma. By the time I left, I knew I had just lost out on the first internal promotion I had applied for.

Word came out a week or so later that the winning applicant was a Star-side reporter (we had both The Times and The Star until 1990) named James Kindall.

I knew Kindall as a quiet sort of person who let his writing do his talking. He was outstanding — and far better qualified than me for a feature-writing, magazine position.

I clearly remember one story he wrote, although I don’t remember if it was for the magazine or the newspaper itself. It was about Sam Walton and Kindall’s exhaustive effort to find him and interview him. The story was titled something like “On the hunt for Sam Walton.”

James Kindall

Kindall went to Bentonville, Wal-Mart’s headquarters, determined to talk with Walton. He first went to his office but was told Walton didn’t give interviews. Kindall then started talking to Bentonville residents, who assured him Walton was always out and about and that Kindall would certainly come across him somewhere. One place Walton frequented, Kindall learned, was the coffee shop at the local Holiday Inn. Kindall went there a couple of mornings but had no luck.

Then, early one morning, about 5 a.m., Kindall went back to Wal-Mart and pulled in the parking lot, outside the executive offices. Soon, an older-model car pulled up in the darkness, and a man got out of the car and started walking toward the door. Kindall jumped out of his car and intercepted the man as he reached the door and said, “Mr. Walton?”

At last, he had homed in on his target. Walton invited Kindall into the office and told him he was impressed with his perseverance but that, nonetheless, he would not give him an on-the-record interview. They chatted a while, and Kindall left, returning to Kansas City with an intriguing story about Walton.

**

Within a year or two of hiring Kindall, Giles Fowler left the paper for a one-year teaching post at Kansas State, and then he went on to Iowa State.

Kindall stayed on the magazine a few years and then went to Long Island Newsday, where he worked for nine years. For about the last 20 years, from what I can determine, he has been a freelancer, writing under the handle “Have Pen Will Travel.” He still lives on Long Island.

I continued writing features for The Kansas City Times until I returned to my political reporting roots. I got the City Hall “beat” in 1985 and stayed there 10 years, before becoming an assignment editor, the post I retired from in 2006.

Several years back, I would see Giles occasionally at Laura Hockaday’s annual KC Star reunion at the Kansas City Country Club. But now Laura’s gone, Giles is gone, and, I believe, the reunion is gone. I will never forget that day, though, I sat in Giles’ office, smugly smoking that cigar, convinced I was on the cusp of becoming a magazine writer.

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