- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - The day before he died was like any other for Jack Lowrey Sr. He went to the Chandler branch of the YMCA, as he did every day, even at 83, to swim, walk on the treadmill and use the sauna.

He visited his wife of 61 years, Louise Beck Lowrey, twice - something he also did every day. (Louise lives in a nursing home because she has Alzheimer’s disease.)

“He was as active as could be,” said Tim Lowrey, the youngest of the Lowreys’ three sons.

So it was quite a shock for Tim to find his father, who was still so mentally sharp and physically fit, dead in his home the morning of Aug. 21.

“He had the USA Today sports page in one hand, and the remote tuned to ESPN in the other,” Tim said.

From the beginning, Jack’s life was out of the ordinary. He was born in Hamilton, Ohio, to circus performers. His father was a motorcycle daredevil, known as “Suicide Sammy Lowrey,” and his mother was a lion tamer. He went to a new school in a new state every month from kindergarten through fourth grade, until his parents finally settled in Mobile.

Legendary among his contemporaries in the 1950s and 1960s, Jack “was a freak of nature as an athlete,” Tim said. Though he was a southpaw, Jack was ambidextrous and could play any position in almost any sport.

At McGill Institute, he played varsity basketball for three years and was named All-City twice, All-District twice and All-State once. He also played varsity football and varsity baseball for one year each.

But basketball was the game closest to his heart. “I don’t think anyone loved basketball more than Jack - and he just kept playing and playing,” said Vince Dooley in a phone interview. “He had a great jump shot that would bank off the board from the corner.”

Dooley, who went on to become the head football coach and athletic director at the University of Georgia, was Jack’s classmate and teammate. “We were second in the state twice and third once. We never won the doggone thing,” he said.

They also had fun together off the court, Dooley said. “He used to drive this black car that had a skull and crossbones on it that belonged to his dad,” he said, laughing. “I think he inherited some of his daddy’s genes.”

Jack received a scholarship to Spring Hill College and went on to sign a brief contract with the Minneapolis Lakers before hurting his knee.

For many years, he continued to play in semi-pro and amateur leagues in Mobile. He captured the Mobile city record for 20,000 points in semi-pro basketball.

He played fast-pitch softball on the Ossie’s and Weinacker’s teams, football for the Mobile Buccaneers and basketball for the Weinacker Hornets.

Once, when pitching for the Mobile Bears baseball team, he struck out Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron, then later hit a double off of Paige and watched as Aaron hit a towering home run off one of his pitches, Tim said.

In 2002, in recognition of his accomplishments as a high school athlete, he was named to the McGill-Toolen Hall of Fame. He was also named the Press-Register’s Athlete of the Year twice.

A couple of days before Jack’s funeral, Tim attended a fish-and-grits dinner at the American Legion Post 250 on Dauphin Island Parkway. His dad was supposed to be there, reminiscing with some of his oldest and dearest friends about their glory days as athletes in Mobile. Instead, Tim shook hands with and hugged members of the group of 30 or so men, all of whom remembered his father fondly.

“As a child, these were our heroes,” Tim said of the group. “These city ball players were the best of the best Mobile had to offer. Daddy, even at 83, could tell you what they did at certain games. His teammates were our extended family.”

Former University of South Alabama head baseball coach Steve Kittrell, who at 65 was one of the youngest of the bunch, called Lowrey “an outstanding person and athlete.” ”It’s an honor to have known him, to have been young when a guy like that can influence you to strive to do better,” he said.

A former teammate and longtime friend, Claude Horn, fondly recalled playing half-court at the Thomas James recreation center in Mobile’s Birdville community in the early 1950s. “We always beat most everybody and became partners,” he said. Later, they ended up playing on the Weinacker’s basketball team.

One of Horn’s fondest memories of their 60-year friendship was going to football games at Ladd Stadium. “We didn’t have any money, but we’d go to the gate and say we were coaches and we were running a little late,” he said_and they were ushered in.

It wasn’t the only time they risked getting into trouble to indulge in their passion for sports. Claude also remembers he and Jack bribing children_sometimes their own_into leaving the windows unlocked at a local high school gymnasium and “playing all weekend.”

“We’d squeeze through and they’d play all night,” Tim said. “Daddy’s motto was ‘one more game’_until Mom put her foot down.”

When the fair came to town, Jack would play the hoops game until he won so many teddy bears that they wouldn’t let him play anymore, Horn said.

“Jack was a competitor,” he said. “He was the kind of guy you wanted on your team.”

Jules Mugnier also played with Jack on the Weinacker Hornets team “for a lot of years,” he said. “We had a nice record for Mobile. We played a lot of big-shot teams.”

“He shot the basketball better than anybody,” Mugnier said. “He was known for that. It was his true love. Jack scored a lot of points, but he just loved to play.”

Vince Dooley said he’ll always remember Jack’s “funny grin and laugh.” He looked forward to seeing him at McGill Class of 1950 reunions. “We kept in touch over the years,” he said. “He was just a fun guy to be around, and did a good job raising his boys.”

Jack retired as the public relations director for the Mobile Fraternal Order of Police. In his spare time, he coached baseball and basketball at Gulf Coast Academy and spent 20 years coaching baseball at Maitre Park. He always had a variety of sports equipment in his car so he’d be ready to play at a moment’s notice.

He loved to play until he drew his last breath, with the sports page in one hand and the remote in the other, Tim said. “He died happy and peaceful. What better way to go?”

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