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Pete Bowles, longtime Newsday reporter, dies at 79

Former Newsday reporter Pete Bowles, seen here in

Former Newsday reporter Pete Bowles, seen here in 1998, died at the age of 79 on Thursday, April 20, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Michael E. Ach

In New York newsrooms and the courthouses that he covered, Newsday reporter Pete Bowles — and his voice — stood out.

Born in Dallas, he had a gravelly, Oklahoma accent that rang out through the newspaper’s bureau in Kew Gardens, Queens, when he answered the phone by saying, “Pete Bowles here.”

Bowles, who covered some of the biggest court cases of the past several decades, such as the trials of mobster John Gotti Sr., died of a heart attack Thursday at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, where he lived. He was 79.

Bowles, who had joined Newsday in July 1968, was part of a team of reporters and editors who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for the paper’s “Heroin Trail” series. He also went to Washington, D.C., to cover the Watergate scandal.

Before retiring in 2005, Bowles was a rewrite man in Newsday’s Queens bureau, covering an array of crime and court stories.

He once was sent to Yankee Stadium to cover a 2001 World Series game between his beloved New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he despaired that he could not cheer for his team from the press section.

Bowles’ wife, Martha Sandlin, said he was a member of the Chickasaw tribe and drew on his Oklahoma upbringing while living in New York.

“He was famous for making hog calls, which he learned from his grandfather, who was a sharecropper in Texas,” Sandlin said. “He enlivened a lot of parties that way.”

Bowles graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he met Sandlin. They were married 55 years.

He started his career at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and later worked for the Albany Times Union and Buffalo Evening News before coming to Newsday.

Colleagues said Bowles used a courtly charm to wrangle information out of otherwise reluctant sources, disarming them with his pleasant demeanor.

Retired Newsday reporter Ed Hershey said Bowles “was the last guy in the city room who used a typewriter. He refused to use a computer.”

That changed when a Newsday tour guide pointed at Bowles’ typewriter and told visitors, “That’s the old way of doing it.”

“Pete was using a computer the next day,” Hershey said.

Sandlin, a documentary filmmaker, said her husband had a “sense of appreciation for different people in different settings, because we moved a lot . . . He had a good, broad appreciation for people and circumstances, and I also thought he was a little too hesitant with opinions, because he always wanted to be a straight news reporter.”

Bowles was an avid hiker whose travels took him throughout Europe. “He never made it to Everest,” Sandlin said. “He hiked all over in France, in Italy and Spain.”

Colleagues remembered Bowles as an unflappable reporter with a wry sense of humor.

“He rarely got upset and he wouldn’t let interviewees get away with something that was obviously a lie or didn’t make sense,” Newsday reporter Ellen Yan said.

Bowles is also survived by a sister, Kay Williams of Claremore, Oklahoma.

Sandlin said there would be no services for Bowles. He will be cremated and his ashes will be buried in Holdenville, Oklahoma, she said.

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