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Remembering J. Earle Bowden

Listen to a longer version of Sandra Averhart's Sept. 2014 interview with J. Earle Bowden.

J. Earle Bowden, Editor Emeritus of the Pensacola News Journal, has died. He was 86 years old. After months of battling health issues, Bowden passed away Sunday in a local hospital. 

WUWF last spoke with Mr. Bowden in September of 2014, prior to the opening of WUWF's Gallery 88 exhibit The World According to Bowden. The exhibit highlighted some of the many editorial cartoons created by Bowden in his long, distinguished career at the PNJ. It was based on the digital archive of his career collection at the University of West Florida’s John C. Pace Library, project initiated by Bowden.

The Pensacola News Journal has a gallery of photos from that exhibit as well as remembrances from his colleaguesat the News Journal.

September 2014 post:

The World According to Bowden will be on display in WUWF’s Gallery through October 31, with an opening reception set for Thursday, September 18 from 3-6 p.m. at WUWF, which is Building 88 on the University of West Florida Main Campus.

Credit UWF J. Earle Bowden Cartoon Archive
PNJ Editor Emeritus J. Earle Bowden

The exhibit features a selection of editorial cartoons by J. Earle Bowden, editor emeritus of the Pensacola News Journal.  The prints are from Bowden’s career collection now archived at the UWF John C. Pace Library.

“The idea, basically, was to reflect a period of Pensacola history,” says Bowden, who offered to donate thousands of his editorial cartoons to the library in early 2013. Thus far, the archived drawings cover more than five decades, beginning in 1962.

“It coincides almost with the origins of the UWF in 1967. It goes all the way through the downtown renaissance, attempts to change the local government, and various governors from Haydon Burns (’65-67) right on through Rick Scott (present)."

Bowden believes it’s significant to note that he was - over the years - the only daily newspaper editor in the country, who drew his own editorial cartoons. And, part of the process –when possible- is to match the drawings with the editorials.

He says his cartoons were based on the news of the day, with more of an emphasis on local news. The top five tagged images in Bowden’s UWF collection are Florida Governor, Local Politics, Florida Legislature, Environment and Taxes.  But, he covered plenty of national and international events and issues as well.

“Some of the early cartoons in the early ‘60's are all devoted to Khrushchev and Kennedy, Eisenhower, Charles de Gaulle, and all those things because I was just beginning to do a national page in the paper called “Focus the Globe,” and I was trying to illustrate that particular period of time” he says.

For The World According to Bowden exhibit in WUWF’s Gallery 88, a variety of local and world events have been chosen. Included are cartoons from the early 1960's depicting Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Apollo 11 Moon landing; the Iranian Hostage Crisis; Challenger shuttle accident; and the botched 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Bowden says it was fun through the years to do Al Gore and others who made a run for the White House dating back to Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.  He recalls a Goldwater campaign speech at Pensacola State (Junior) College, “I did a cartoon of him coming and scaring the Florida Democrats a little bit. And, he (Goldwater) wrote me a letter and says ‘send me the cartoon,’ and didn’t even say please.”

From the local headlines is a satirical 1993 cartoon on the great shipwrecks of Pensacola. That included the loss of the old Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) and its good-paying jobs as a result of the early BRAC process; the loss of the ship USS Lexington to Corpus Christi, where it was turned into a floating museum; and the demolition of Pensacola’s historic downtown landmark, the San Carlos Hotel.

Also chosen for the Gallery 88 exhibit are depictions of the offshore drilling debate, UFO traffic, and hurricanes.

In conjunction with the WUWF exhibit, the Pace Library’s Great Good Place is displaying a series of Bowden’s editorial cartoons focused on securing the preservation of Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS) as federal park lands in 1971.

If I have any achievement that I really cherish, it is the fact that I was a part of many people who brought about the creation of a national park in Pensacola Harbor at a time when there was a lot of opposition to it,” Bowden says, calling President Nixon’s signing of the bill to preserve and designate the land ‘a victory for the people.’

The GINS series and the entire Bowden collection is available on the Pace Library'sJ. Earle Bowden Cartoon Archive.

The Gallery 88 exhibit, The World According to Bowden, will be on display through October 31. An opening reception is Thursday, September 18, from 3-6 p.m. at the WUWF studios, Bldg. 88 on the UWF Main Campus.

For more information about the exhibit and to hear the complete interview with J. Earle Bowden link to WUWF's Gallery 88.

Sandra Averhart speaks with Bowden on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington.

In this August  2013 interview, Bowden shared his thoughts about Dr. Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Also, he talked about the fight for civil rights and race relations in the Pensacola area dating back to the 1960's, when he became editor at the Pensacola News Journal.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.