Martha Louise Shea McDowell, 80, a former public relations executive for the Washington Post, reporter for the Chicago Daily News and faculty member of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, died July 6 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., from complications related to lung cancer surgery. A funeral mass took place on July 13, at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Vienna.
McDowell, a McLean resident, served as public relations manager of the Post during the labor strike by a pressmen's union against the paper in 1975. She was instrumental in developing a public relations program for meeting the strike crisis. Additionally, she contributed in the newsroom by editing copy during the strike.
Born in Tulsa, Okla., McDowell developed an early interest in journalism. After graduating from the Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Newton, Mass., she attended Manhattanville College in New York. She later enrolled in the University of Missouri School of Journalism. After her graduation from Missouri in 1946, McDowell was hired by the university to teach copy reading, among other courses. Shortly thereafter, she worked as a reporter for the Springfield Missouri News-Leader where one of her first assignments, at 22, was covering Winston Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Mo.
In 1950, she married Hobart K. McDowell Jr., who later became a senior editor of National Geographic Magazine. They raised four children, but their marriage ended in divorce in 1980.
Moving with her husband to Chicago in 1950, McDowell was hired by the Chicago Daily News as a reporter, where she worked until 1952. After several years as a stay-at-home mother, and a move to Virginia, McDowell's career led her to free-lance writing and public relations work. She joined the Post in 1975 and, in addition to her work during the strike, served as a public relations liaison between the paper and the production company filming the Watergate-era motion picture, "All the President's Men."
Long active in community affairs and Virginia Republican politics, McDowell eventually started her own public relations and political consulting firm, M. Shea McDowell Advertising. Her clients included, in part, the U. S. Navy, the National Automobile Dealers Association, U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-10) and state Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-34). She also had numerous articles published in several magazines including McCall's, Parents, and Your New Baby in addition to articles in the Washington Post and the Washington Star. McDowell also wrote a book on American Indian jewelry.
Widely known in Virginia political circles, McDowell was a member of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, the Greater McLean Republican Women's Club and the Virginia Federation of Republican Women. She instilled in her children a strong interest in public service. As a result, her youngest son, Robert, twice ran for seats in the Virginia General Assembly, and her eldest son, Kelly, is the mayor of El Segundo, Calif.
She loved to ride horses on her family's small farm outside of Vienna and traveled extensively throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia. She was fluent in Spanish and, earlier this year, celebrated her 80th birthday to the festive sound of a mariachi band at her family's estate.
Survivors include four children, H. Kelliston McDowell III of El Segundo, Calif.; Tina S. McDowell of Forest Heights, Md.; Joseph S. McDowell of Corpus Christi, Texas; Robert M. McDowell of Vienna, Va.; and three grandchildren, Kelliston T. McDowell of Gainesboro, Tenn., and Griffin M. McDowell and Mary-Shea V. McDowell, both of Vienna.