Although former journeyman heavyweight “Tiger” Ted Lowry is 86 years of age, he has no intention of slowing down any time soon. Although he is best known as the only fighter to twice last the ten-round distance with undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, Lowry’s life is defined by so much more.
He has been honored by United States presidents and congressmen, not only for his work with youth but also for his service to his country during World War II. As a member of the all-black 555th Parachute Battalion—which came to be known as the Triple Nickles—he performed brilliantly under the direst of circumstances.
Precluded from actual combat because of the inane belief that the soldiering abilities of black soldiers was inferior to that of their white counterparts, the 555th was assigned the unenviable task of putting out massive fire fires in the Pacific Northwest.
Information declassified in the past 10 years revealed that the fires had been started by balloons filled with incendiary devices and dispatched by Japanese forces. All of this was kept secret at the time, so as not cause mass hysteria in the homeland.
Lowry’s boxing career, which began in 1940 and ended in 1955, was interrupted by the war. A native of Portland, Maine, he grew up with his mother Grace, whose faded photo he still carries in his wallet to this day. Dared into entering a boxing contest at 18, he knocked out three opponents in one night.
The man who would have been his fourth victim decided that he had seen enough of his friends’ blood and chose the path of least resistance.
Even after that, Lowry, who now lives in Norwalk, Connecticut, with his second wife Alice, to whom he has been married for 40 years, still entertained no boxing aspirations until New England middleweight champion Babe Aberilla came to town to train for an upcoming bout.
Although Lowry didn’t realize what a diamond in the rough he was, he agreed to work with the regional champ. The 19-year-old novice made such an impression on Aberilla’s manager, Lowry was whisked off to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he was housed with several other fighters. Overnight, he found himself a full-time professional fighter.
At one point he fought for 15 consecutive weeks, mainly in the Northeast. He was also fighting 10-rounders in his first month as a pro. However, it was while serving in the U.S. Army in Louisiana that he really started to believe in himself as a fighter.
Heavyweight champion Joe Louis came to town to fight an exhibition. Lowry gladly volunteered to be the opponent.
“I was only 23 years old, but I didn’t hit the floor and I didn’t take a beating,” he says proudly. “Afterwards, 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.”
An even tougher lesson than anything he ever learned in the ring was that there was a very clear system of inequality in the country he was putting his life on the line for. While assigned to Mineral Springs, Texas, there was a German prisoner of war camp on base.
Several prisoners who were classified as trustees were allowed to ride into town in the front of a public bus to pick up food and cigarettes, while black uniformed soldiers like Lowry were forced to sit in the back.
“They probably shot some of our boys and they were laughing at us,” said Lowry. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It made no sense.”
After the war Lowry assumed the role of a barnstorming boxer. His eventual 64-65-9 (41 KOs) was compiled against local heroes in places like Dallas, St. Paul, Portland, Oregon, Cleveland, Spokane, Boise, Walla Walla, Baltimore, Toronto, and dozens of other whistlestops in between.
He fought a veritable who’s who of champions and contenders, including “Tiger” Jack Fox, Archie Moore, Joey Maxim, Roland LaStarza, and Harry “Kid” Matthews. The only fighters to stop him were Matthews, Lee Q. Murray, and Rusty Payne.
Although he considers Moore to be his toughest opponent, it is the Marciano fights that he—and everyone else—remember best. The first bout took place at the Providence Auditorium on October 10, 1949. Marciano tried everything, but failed to stop the savvy veteran. The local newspaper even had Lowry winning six rounds to four.
“I still think I won the first fight and so do a lot of other people,” said Lowry recently. “But you learn to take the good with the bad. His manager, Al Weill, was very connected. I think that helped him a bit.”
Afterwards Lowry and Marciano met up at the Celebrity Club in downtown Providence, where they were introduced to Ella Fitzgerald. Lowry is the first to admit that he and Marciano got along just “swell” outside of the ring.
Lowry concedes that Marciano beat him fairly in the November 1950 rematch at the same venue. Still, he says, “I feel as if I was cheated out of my little piece of history. But then I realize I still have a piece of history. Here it is, all these years later and reporters still come around and ask about the Marciano fights.”
After the first 1959 bout, Lowry took a job working the 4×12 shift at the New Haven County Jail. He described himself as a good, fair guard. “It was not my job to punish the prisoners, but to protect them,” he said. “After all, their incarceration was their punishment.”
One night an inmate told him about a plot to fly some bank robbers out of the country. As things turned out those attempting to escape were wanted for the Brinks Robbery, which was one of the biggest heists of all time.
When Lowry reported it to his head jailer, he was ignored. So he went to the FBI, who wound up taking the inmate out of the facility in the dead of the night. Within a month the robbery was solved. The head jailer looked foolish for being so remiss in his duties.
Lowry, who still works part-time as a concrete contractor and a school bus monitor, has achieved all he wants to achieve but one thing in this life. He has numerous chapters written for a book to be called God’s In My Corner. It has Ophra Winphrey Book of the Month Club Selection written all over it, if only some 27-year-old producer would realize what an invaluable link the show could have to a long ago past.
“There are few men who have lived more exemplary lives or are more exemplary people than Ted Lowry,” said noted boxing historian Mike Silver. “He’s a trove of history: boxing history, World War II history, a history of doing all the right things for 86 years.”