By Scott Bigelow
"The University has lost one of its great friends and neighbors," said UNC Pembroke Chancellor Allen C. Meadors.
The Rev. Welton Lowry died Friday, March 12, 2004 at his home on Deese Road in Pembroke. He was 91.
Rev. Lowry grew up on land that would become UNCP. In 1923, he witnessed the construction of Old Main, the oldest building on campus.
A schoolteacher and principal in Robeson and Bladen counties, Rev. Lowry ministered at several area churches for 69 years.
He attended first through twelfth grades and received a two-year degree at Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County (now UNCP). Rev. Lowry returned to complete requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education in 1948. He also received a Master of Arts degree in School Administration from George Peabody University/Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
Rev. Lowry blazed many trails for Lumbee Indians. In 1939, he was among the first American Indians to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps Flying Cadets. He had an important role in the creation of the national Indian Education Act (IEA), which provides resources for the education of American Indians.
Perhaps his greatest cause was federal recognition of Lumbees. He made several trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the cause.
To all who would listen, Rev. Lowry emphasized that the recognition issue is, first and foremost, one of honor and respect for the Lumbee. He called the Lumbee "the most progressive Indians in the United States."
In his obituary in The Robesonian, the family wrote: "Rev. Lowry's desire was to witness the federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe. He took great pride in working for the recognition of the Lumbees, and he hoped it would serve the Lumbee people. He dreamed that the world would recognize how strong the Lumbee people are with or without recognition, and that they deserved recognition."
Through his work with the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, Rev. Lowry helped forge the affiliation of the Odum Home and the North Carolina Baptist Orphanage Homes. He also helped paved the way for construction of the Baptist Student Union, adjacent to campus.
Rev. Lowry won many awards for his good works, including the Leo Reno Award from the National Education Association for his work with American Indians. He was honored with the Henry Berry Lowrie Award from the Lumbee Regional Development Association.
Awarded an Honorary Doctorate from UNCP in 1991, here is an excerpt from the official citation presenting Rev. Lowry: "Rev. Lowry's dedication to people, through decades of service in the schools and churches of this region, has touched the lives of many of us. Pembroke State University is proud to present this Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to a son of this very land, and of this institution, Rev. Welton Lowry."
For his long-time service at the West End Baptist Church, the City of Lumberton officially proclaimed Sept. 26, 1984 as "Welton Lowry Day."
Rev. Lowry was a Chancellor's Club member and a past President of the UNCP Alumni Association and won its Distinguished Service Award in 1983. In 2003, his gift established "The Ministry Through Education Endowed Scholarship" at UNCP for undergraduate students majoring in religion or education with a concentration in religion.
In Rev. Lowry's youth, the family home was located on the site of Sampson Hall, between the Sampson-Livermore Library and Old Main. Much of the south end of campus belonged to the Lowry family.
Born on Sept. 26, 1913, Welton Lowry was the first son of Flora Locklear Lowry and Billy W. Lowry. Rev. Lowry was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Deese Lowry, and one son, Virgil Lowry. He is survived by a son, William Allen Lowry, two daughters, Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend and Flora Gail Williams, and seven grand children.