Photo Credit: Newsday / Ken Spencer
As a Newsday columnist for nearly 30 years, Ed Lowe was a chronicler of ordinary life on Long Island, a writer most comfortable hearing stories from the seat of a bar stool or across the counter at a local diner.
He told the tales of dockworkers and police officers, of crossing guards and Vietnam veterans, of neighbors and parents and waitresses. He spoke of the familiar and his favorites, his family, the Great South Bay and Gilgo Beach, earning the title of "Long Island's Favorite Storyteller."
"My criteria for selecting stories is embarrassingly simple," he wrote in the introduction to his 1993 book, "Ed Lowe's Long Island." "If I hear a story that moves, amuses, angers or saddens me so much that I want to tell it to another person, then it's likely a story worth writing."
Lowe died Saturday afternoon at the age of 64 of liver cancer at his home in Huntington with his wife, Susan Hennings-Lowe, at his side.
"He was the light of my life," said Hennings-Lowe. "He fought the good fight, that's for sure."
Lowe had asked his daughter, Colleen Lowe Smith, to convey his farewell on his Facebook page Jan. 5. "He sends all his love and appreciation to all of you," she wrote. In the days since, his page has recorded an outpouring of love, personal recollections and tributes.
Over the years, a wide and devoted readership wrote to Lowe with their own stories. He would give them voice, in columns that were nonetheless unmistakably his.
"I don't think there's ever been anyone at Newsday whose work resonated so completely with readers as Ed Lowe's," said former Newsday Editor Anthony Marro. "He knew Long Island and he knew Long Islanders, and he wrote columns that they understood fully and identified with completely."
He added, "Most columnists write opinion. Ed told the stories of the people of Long Island, and they related to him absolutely."
Born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1946, Lowe lived most of his life in Amityville where his father, Edward Sr., served as police chief and his mother, Dolores, remained until her death in 2009. By eighth grade, he'd already expressed an intention to become a writer, said attorney Stephen Kretz of Amityville, who grew up a few houses from Lowe and remained his friend for 61 years.
Lowe, a 1967 graduate of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, taught English for two years at Lindenhurst Junior High School. Then in the summer of 1969, he became a reporter at the Suffolk Sun, which promptly folded. Newsday quickly hired the 23-year-old father of two, who in 1964 had worked as a proof boy in the composing room.
He became a featured columnist in 1976, writing regular columns for what he liked to call the "paragraph factory."
His hallmark was telling the stories of everyday people in the pages of Newsday. Such as the young woman with Down syndrome who is taken to the prom by the high school football star. Or the efforts of local residents soon after 9/11.
"Like shock waves in a tub, the society's collective generosity and anguish seemed to return to the scene in repeating waves," Lowe wrote Oct. 12, 2001. "The more energetic and active among us stormed the site in the immediate aftermath of the cataclysm and gave full days to enduring the smoke and heat and danger and the sadness of early rescue and recovery work. Others followed; follow, still."
Lowe was not the type of columnist who pushed a clear agenda, but he did root for the underdog and liked to tweak bureaucracies. He often returned to his favorite topics, particularly boating on the Great South Bay. And, his favorite place, Gilgo Beach.
"Every island dweller holds especially dear a favorite stretch of shoreline, whether for its sensuously soft sand or its menacing rocks; for its endless flatness or its majestic bluffs; for its undisturbed, natural solitude or its teeming crowds," he wrote in 1991. "My heart rests most comfortably at Gilgo, a particularly fragile section of barrier island directly across Great South Bay from my home, accessible by car or by boat. It provides vastness beyond my meager requirements, and it welcomes visits during (and by) all four seasons."
'Great moral center'
With his down-home charm, bushy mustache and glasses, Lowe was a familiar figure on Long Island and autographed photographs of him grace the walls of many local restaurants.
He was a favored commencement speaker, emceed charity events for organizations, performed in comedy clubs.
Les Payne, a former editor and columnist at Newsday, was a close friend of Lowe's dating from their early days as young reporters. He cited Lowe's "great moral center" and said, "He was, in a pure sense, kind. . . . You could trust him. He was genuine, and I think that's what Long Islanders saw in him."
Lowe was a devotee of the author Mark Twain and of the craftsmanship of writing, but above all, Payne said, "He loved life and he loved people who loved life and people having fun. He had that gift and privilege to record it, and he delighted in it."
Payne wrote in a column published in 2006, "Ed Lowe is acclaimed as a quite literate Long Island homeboy who, as a lyrical writer and spinner of yarns has earned his way to the oak bars of the best tenders and the tables of the top chefs. As a speaker, the former schoolteacher is as accomplished as a bishop, without the connections, and just as much in demand."
Lowe served as a regular panelist on "Father Tom and Friends," a weekly Cablevision show produced by his former St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary classmate Msgr. Tom Hartman of Long Island's TeLIcare Channel. He also hosted a one-on-one interview program for TeLIcare, and won awards for the three years, from 1999 to 2002, he hosted a daily show on then radio station WLUX 540 AM.
In the foreword to Lowe's book, Marro told of how Lowe was often recognized by readers.
"In all of these encounters, Ed would be pleasant and engaging," Marro wrote. "He could slip into conversations with strangers as comfortably as people could slip into an old shoe."
Paul Vitello, a former columnist for Newsday, said of Lowe, "He believed in the power of people's stories. Sometimes, I think he considered them sacred. He made a community of all of us who loved his work."
Lowe co-authored the books "The Patient Who Cured His Therapist" and "Uncharted Lives: Understanding the Life Passages of Gay Men" with New York psychotherapist Stanley Siegel. He also has edited the two collections of his own stories and essays, including "Ed Lowe's Long Island," and "Not As I Do: A Father's Report."
A stroke, then cancer
Lowe took early retirement from Newsday in 2004 during a round of buyouts. His columns appeared for several years in the weekly Long Island Press beginning in January 2005 and in South Bay's Neighbor newspapers, a chain of seven weeklies.
In January 2008, Lowe suffered a near-fatal stroke that left him temporarily unable to walk, write or talk, a bitter blow for a man whose life work was to tell stories.
He'd recovered so well that by the time of his liver-cancer diagnosis last fall, he was able to write about the two health issues in his online blog with characteristic humor and honesty.
On Oct. 8, 2010, he wrote "My actual initial reaction, being brought up Irish Catholic, was, 'Wow, whoever you are, I must have really pissed you off. You let me have two-and-a-half-years to sort of patch things up after the stroke - which I admit I fundamentally caused - and then you hand me this? A tumor? In my liver? What are you, a Sadist? Nurturing some kind of God complex, are we? Okay, withdraw that last remark.' "
Lowe is survived by daughters Theresa Christine "TC" Marino of Amity Harbor and Colleen Lowe Smith of Wales, Mass.; sons James "Jed" Lowe of Cayey, Puerto Rico, and Daniel Lowe of Amityville; stepdaughters Nancy Hennings and Erin Gibson, both of Huntington; stepsons Charles Hennings of Coram and Matthew Hennings of Huntington; and grandchildren Shannon Spollen, Andrew Marino, Jessica Marino and Cassidy Rose Smith. Lowe was predeceased by grandson Kevin William Spollen.
Visitation is Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at the M.A. Connell Funeral Home in Huntington Station. A Mass will be celebrated Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Patrick's Church in Huntington. In lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to Autism Speaks.
Despite the setbacks in his own life, Lowe at the end expressed satisfaction with it. His Facebook bio read: "64. Stroke survivor. Writing a column, because I really don't know anything, even less since the stroke. Oh, and happy. Favorite quotations: If I weren't Ed Lowe, I would wish I were."
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