Margaret Dowd, 97, mother of columnist
Margaret Dowd, a longtime D.C. resident made famous by her daughter’s column in the New York Times, died July 17 at her home in Chevy Chase. She was 97.
Mrs. Dowd became a popular recurring figure in her daughter Maureen’s column, dispensing wry advice. One piece published on Mother’s Day in 1983 in The Washington Post’s Outlook section described her as “a closet Abigail Adams” and chronicled her prolific letter-writing.
Mrs. Dowd was born in Wilmington, Del., but grew up in the District. She recalled proudly that her family got one of the first telephones in the capital and one of the earliest automobiles — a black, seven-passenger Reo touring car with a crank.
As a little girl, she saw the last of the Civil War veterans marching in Memorial Day parades downtown, and as an adult, she made friends with a neighbor named Pop Seymour, who, at 5 years old, was at Ford’s Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was shot.
She had vivid memories of Jan. 28, 1922, when the roof of the Knickerbocker movie theater collapsed under the snow. “Ninety-eight people died watching a George M. Cohan comedy,” she said. “A girl in my class, the brightest one, was killed.”
In the 1930s, she worked for the Surety Service Organization, tracking financial information. In 1932, she won a $2,000 prize in a popularity contest sponsored by the Washington Daily News.
She attended National Law School for a year before leaving to marry Mike Dowd, a decorated D.C. police detective who helped enforce Prohibition, in 1934. The two were both champion Irish step dancers.
In the more intimate District of old, she crossed paths with the famous and not-yet-famous over the years. One night in the 1930s, when her husband was working, she went to her deserted neighborhood drugstore and had her makeup done by an upstart cosmetics businessman.
“He told me to put the lipstick on the upper lip first, then press into the bottom lip to make an impression,” she recalled of the man, who turned out to be Max Factor.
She met John F. Kennedy at a Capitol Hill cocktail party, describing him as “very attractive, coppery hair.” She once shared an elevator with J. Edgar Hoover. “He looked very masculine,” she said. “I never believed he wore dresses.”
She was accustomed to politics, since her husband had guarded Franklin D. Roosevelt and supervised Senate security for 20 years.
Intensely patriotic, she moved her three children into one bedroom during World War II so she could help the war effort by taking in boarders and military meteorologists.
Since fruit was scarce during the war, she made a secret deal with an admirer who worked in the A&P produce department. “Whenever a shipment came in,” she said in the Times millennial column, “he would meet me in the liquor store across from the Sheraton Hotel and give me bananas.”
She was honored in 2004 at a luncheon as the oldest Holy Cross Academy alumnae. She was active in the Blessed Sacrament Sodality and Ladies of Charity. She was the district president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and went on to serve as a national director and national historian.
She is survived by three sons, Michael Dowd of the District, Martin Dowd of Burtonsville and Kevin Dowd of Rockville; two daughters, Maureen Dowd and Peggy Dowd, both of the District; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1971.