‘Tiger’ Ted Lowry, 90; boxer went the distance with Marciano twice

Ted Lowry took youth off the streets in Norwalk, Conn., into the ring as a mentor. In 144 bouts he was knocked out three times. Ted Lowry took youth off the streets in Norwalk, Conn., into the ring as a mentor. In 144 bouts he was knocked out three times. (George Ruhe /New York Times)
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / June 30, 2010

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“Tiger’’ Ted Lowry, the only fighter to go the 10-round distance twice against future heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano and who nearly handed Marciano the only loss of his career, stood tall as a professional fighter and as a man.

Mr. Lowry served his country during World War II with the 555th “Triple Nickel’’ Parachute Infantry Battalion, an all-black airborne unit of the US Army. And he was known to talk about the indignity he suffered, riding in the back of a US military bus in which German prisoners were allowed to sit in front.

He fought 144 professional bouts, including several against eventual world champions, and was knocked out just three times. At the age of 76, he began writing his memoirs that 10 years later became his published autobiography “God’s in My Corner: A Portrait of an American Boxer.’’

Mr. Lowry, who took youth off the streets in Norwalk, Conn., and into the ring as a mentor and trainer through the Police Athletic League, received numerous honors for his community service and boxing career that began in 1939 and ended in 1955. He died of heart failure June 14 at Norwalk Hospital. The longtime Norwalk resident was 90.

“I considered him to be a boxing treasure, one of the last links to boxing’s great golden age of talent, activity, and popularity,’’ said Mike Silver, a boxing historian who interviewed Mr. Lowry five years ago for Silver’s book, “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science.’’

“One of his best performances was in 1952 in St. Paul, Minn., against light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim in a nontitle bout, and Ted was robbed of a decision he clearly deserved to win. Maxim’s next fight was against the great Sugar Ray Robinson. There was no way Ted was going to get the decision.’’

A New England light heavyweight and heavyweight champion who fought out of New Bedford in the early 1940s, Mr. Lowry established the High-Low Forms and Foundations construction company after his retirement from boxing. Until last year, Mr. Lowry, and his wife of 46 years, Alice (Johnson), were bus monitors for the Colytown Elementary School in Westport, Conn.

“My dad never quit on anything in his life, and whatever he did, he did it well,’’ said Mr. Lowry’s son, Wayne, of Waterbury, Conn. “He enjoyed people, especially the youth, and he was very outgoing, the kind of person who could just light up a room.’’

A 2008 inductee to the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame, Mr. Lowry was honored on his 80th birthday, Oct. 27, 1999, with “Ted Lowry Day’’ in Norwalk.

“Ted taught a lot of us to become boxers, some of whom were in the streets drinking, drugging, and getting into trouble,’’ recalled Larry Johnson, a former welterweight fighter who started in Mr. Lowry’s boxing program in 1979 and is now chief executive officer of the Character Under Construction in Norwalk, a youth enrichment program. “He always invited me to the gym no matter what was taking place in my life or what I thought of myself. He always accepted me and told me I was a champion.

“Tiger Ted said that although he was never a world champion, the fact he did the best he could made him a champion in life. His autobiography was his legacy and his mission — to plant a seed in young men that they should never give up.’’

Robert Mladinich, a former prizefighter who has written for Ring Magazine and the website, said Mr. Lowry started to believe in himself as a fighter after going up against the great heavyweight champion Joe Louis while serving with the US Army in Louisiana.

“I was only 23 years old, but I didn’t hit the floor, and I didn’t take a beating,’’ Mr. Lowry told Mladinich. “Afterward, Joe paid me some compliments and told me I had a good future. He said I would go places. From then on, I never had fear in the ring again.’’

In 1949 in Providence, Mr. Lowry fought Marciano for the first time and lost by a decision, but according to newspaper accounts, many in the crowd felt Mr. Lowry should have won the bout. The two fought again in 1950, and Marciano dominated, but could not KO Mr. Lowry. Marciano went on to win all of his 49 fights, 43 by knockout.

“I think Lowry would have gone the distance if we had fought a hundred times,’’ Marciano said later. “I could never get used to his style of fighting.’’

Marciano’s brother, Pete, said Mr. Lowry had “tremendous ring generalship and knew the science of the sport.’’

“Rocky had great respect for him, and when you consider Rocky’s record, what Ted did against him was remarkable,’’ Marciano said.

Mr. Lowry, who had 67 wins, 67 losses (including a stellar performance against light heavyweight great Archie Moore), and 10 draws, grew up in New Haven and moved to Portland, Maine, at age 13. A four-sport athlete at Portland High, he lived with other fledgling fighters in New Bedford, then went back to New Haven after military service.

“Ted was willing to go anywhere and fight anybody on short notice for short pay to support his family,’’ said Mladinich.

“Although he never got the break that would put him in the big time, he was not a bitter man. In fact, he was the eternal optimist. I did a 10-minute documentary with him about a year and a half ago, and he did say to me, ‘See, now I’m sitting in front of the [school] bus,’ a reference to what happened to him during the war.’’

Sharon Napolitano, who wrote the introduction to Mr. Lowry’s book, said he was “full of wonderful stories and wanted to share them with the world.’’

“When he approached me about typing his memoir in 1996, I knew nothing of his past,’’ Napolitano said.

“I soon learned how remarkable and inspirational this man was. . . . Those who knew him will always remember him as a true gentleman and a winner in and out of the ring.’’

In addition to his wife, Alice, and son, Wayne, Mr. Lowry leaves three other sons, T. Kevin of Alexandria, Va., Charles Roy of Hayward, Calif., and Wayne Miggins of Fort Washington, Md.; and his first wife, Marjorie Fowler of New Haven. Another son, Kenneth of New Haven, who designed the artwork for his father’s book, died last year. A funeral service has been held for Mr. Lowry. Burial was at Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport.