Jack Bowden, popular WMAR-TV news anchor and reporter, dies

Jack Bowden, a former WMAR-TV news anchor, died of leukemia at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.
Jack Bowden, a former WMAR-TV news anchor, died of leukemia at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. (Baltimore Sun)

Jack Bowden, a former WMAR-TV news anchor and reporter for more than two decades, died of leukemia Wednesday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 82 and lived in Finksburg.

"It was like he was getting off the stage," said his wife, Susan White-Bowden, a fellow reporter who also appeared with him on air. "He seemed to be at peace."


Mr. Bowden spent 21 years in television and left WMAR in 1988 in a contract dispute. In December 1989 he joined WBAL radio and hosted an afternoon news journal program.

"He was a household word in the mid-1960s," said Richard Sher, a friend who is moderator of the WMAR-TV program "Square Off."


"Jack was a consummate professional. He had class and he was a gentleman," said Mr. Sher. "He was also a brilliant journalist. Jack always had the time for a laugh, a good cigar and a glass of bourbon. He was just a wonderful human being."

Recalled for his boyish looks and easygoing style, Mr. Bowden achieved top ratings when he appeared with his wife.

A 1981 Baltimore Sun column said, "It may surprise some people, but the hottest personalities on Baltimore television right now are Jack Bowden and Susan White-Bowden, the husband-and-wife co-anchor team on Channel 2's Noon News."

"In a flurry of budget cuts at the station, Mr. Bowden was asked to take an annual salary reduction of close to $20,000," a 1989 Sun story article. "He refused and left the station, followed a few months afterward by his wife."


Born in Baltimore and raised in Walbrook, he was the son of Joseph R. Bowden, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad auditor, and Marion Crane. He was a 1950 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, where he began his broadcast career in 1955 at the campus radio station. He served in the Army's Finance Corps during the Korean War.

He initially worked at WFMD radio in Frederick. Then, in 1960, he became a classical music announcer at WBAL-FM. He worked a year at WBAL-TV and joined WMAR in 1967.

According to a biographical sketch prepared by Mr. Bowden, he worked as a daily reporter and covered events that included the 1968 riots, the political corruption trial of Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson and a price-fixing scheme related to demolition costs of buildings that sat in the path of Baltimore's Inner Harbor renewal.

He recalled developing Channel 2's Annapolis bureau in 1971, broadcasting daily reports on state government.

But it was the March 1976 kidnapping of a 10-year-old Towson boy, Billy Arthes, that Mr, Bowden recalled as the "most important" story he covered in his long career. The Boys' Latin School student did not return home after he left to deliver afternoon newspapers. Police identified a suspect but requested that his name and photo not be publicized.

"Despite the protests of the police, but with the approval of the boy's parents, [I] broadcast the identity of the kidnapper as Arthur Goode, who had murdered two other young boys," Mr. Bowden wrote, also recalling that he included photos of the alleged kidnapper and the boy. He said WMAR was "the only news outlet to do so."

"A woman in Virginia saw it, recognized them, called police, and the next day they arrested Goode and rescued Billy," Mr. Bowden wrote. "That day, as we waited for Billy's return, his father, Dr. Arthes, embraced me and said, over and over, 'Thank you for my son, thank you for my son.' ... This meant more to me than anything else in my career."

"Jack was smart and tough, but he was gentle, funny and kind," said Andy Barth, a Fulton resident who appeared on air with Mr. Bowden for many years on WMAR. "He was really the conscience of our newsroom, and he was a conscience to a wide group of friends who respected and adored him. He was a terrific reporter, and he had a charm that made people want to confide in him."

He recalled working with Mr. Bowden to cover the 1977 trial of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel on fraud and racketeering charges. The Sun reported that WMAR was the first on the air to report the guilty verdict.

"In so many ways, he taught me to be a reporter," said Mr. Barth.

In his autobiographical sketch, Mr. Bowden also remembered saving WMAR-TV's film library.

"I was literally pulling film out of dumpsters when management began throwing it away," Mr. Bowden wrote. "Eventually the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Library agreed to take the film and tape, and preserve it."

While at Channel 2, he taught news writing classes at Towson University and at what is now McDaniel College in Westminster.

He retired in 1998 as a reporter and anchor at WJLA-TV in Washington. He also had minor roles in several films, including "Forrest Gump," "Cry-Baby" and "The Distinguished Gentleman."

He served as first vice president of the Washington/Baltimore AFTRA/SAG board for eight years. He was also a vice president of the Carroll County Board of Library Trustees and worked to win approval for construction of the Finksburg library.

With his wife, he wrote, "Off Season," a book about living in retirement.

His wife said that a memorial service will be held later this year.

In addition to his wife of 36 years, survivors include a son, C.J. Bowden of Pacific Palisades, Calif.; two stepdaughters, Marjorie M. White of Finksburg and O'Donnell White Boone of Murrells Inlet, S.C.; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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