Jimmie “Mississippi Red” McDowell
Longtime sportswriter and college football personality James Lyman McDowell Jr. passed away on March 5, 2020, in Jackson, Mississippi, at the age of 93. Jimmie is survived by his children Joanna McDowell Kamei Bufkin, Michael McDowell (Dennis), and Patrick McDowell (Leah); grandchildren Joshua Kamei, Jessica Kamei Fitzhugh (Blake), Jennifer Bufkin, Julia Bufkin, Jamey McDowell and Claire McDowell; and great-grandchildren Kylah Bufkin, Kaylee Bufkin and Arabella Rose Fitzhugh. He was a faithful member and regular attendee of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson.
Jimmie was born on March 24, 1926, in Brookhaven, Mississippi, to James Lyman McDowell Sr. and Blanche Leroy Byrd McDowell. As the only child of a semi-pro baseball player, Jimmie practically began his life on the road, traveling the old Cotton States League circuit with his parents and often sleeping in a hotel dresser drawer.
Jimmie began covering local sports for the Brookhaven Daily Leader at age 14. Immediately upon graduation from Brookhaven High School in 1944, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he served in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters during World War II. Eager to pursue a sports broadcasting career, he signed up for radio school. After a few days he asked his commanding officer, “Chief, this dot-dot-dash stuff is okay, but when do I get to start talking?” He was disappointed to hear, “Son, it’s not that kind of radio station.” Still, Jimmie appreciated that his time in the Navy allowed a skinny kid from Brookhaven to see much of the country and the world, and he never lost his love for travel.
After the war, Jimmie returned to Brookhaven to attend Whitworth College, where he beat out the only other male co-ed in his class for the title of Mr. Whitworth. He went to Millsaps College for one semester the next year before transferring to the University of Mississippi, where he was sports editor of the Daily Mississippian student newspaper and the Ole Miss yearbook before graduating in 1949. He treasured his time at Ole Miss and the lifelong friendships he made there.
After graduating from Ole Miss, Jimmie took a job as assistant sports editor of the Jackson Daily News, then as sports editor for the Meridian Star. He then served as athletics publicity director for Mississippi Southern College (now USM) from 1951 to 1955 before returning to the Daily News as sports editor and columnist. The upstart Jackson State Times soon hired Jimmie away to be its sports editor and columnist, where he remained from 1956 until the paper shut down in 1962.
It was during his time with the State Times that Jimmie first became known as “Mississippi Red.” In his featured column he regularly criticized the state’s unwritten law prohibiting its “white” college sports teams from competing against racially integrated teams. His argument was simple: “To show you’re the best you have to play the best, whatever color they are.” Jimmie’s efforts to change the status quo are recounted in The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (2009) and Full Court Press: Mississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball (2016).
Jimmie also hosted a television sports show on WLBT in Jackson from 1953 to 1962, and co-founded the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1960. It was during this exciting period in Jimmie’s professional life that Joanna and Michael were born to Jimmie and his then wife, the late Joanne Crenshaw, in Jackson.
Following a one-year stint as public relations officer for the Houston Colt .45s expansion baseball team (now the Astros) in 1962, Jimmie joined the Memphis Commercial Appeal as executive sports editor and columnist, then took the same post with the Trenton (NJ) Times.
In 1964, Jimmie was hired as publicity director for the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) in New York City. It was during this new phase of his career that his third child, Patrick, was born to Jimmie and Joanne in Princeton, NJ. Jimmie and Joanne later divorced but remained dear friends until her death in 2015.
In 1970, Jimmie was promoted to the position of executive director of the NFF, a position he held until his retirement in 1991. For close to 30 years Jimmie traveled the country as the NFF’s representative and goodwill ambassador, attending major college games and bowl games every football season and visiting countless universities and local chapter events every offseason. While with the NFF, Jimmie helped establish the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1977, the College Football Hall of Fame building in 1978, and the annual Kickoff Classic in 1983.
Jimmie continued to serve the NFF as a consultant for several years after retirement. He also served as a consultant for the Liberty Bowl and the Ole Miss Loyalty Foundation.
Not ready for full retirement from football after returning to Mississippi in 1993, Jimmie founded the All-American Football Foundation, through which he continued to honor legendary college players as well as unsung heroes, coaches, administrators, sports information directors, and newspaper, radio, and television sports journalists around the country for more than 20 years. He also continued to delight longtime fans and friends with a syndicated weekly column that ran for many years in local newspapers throughout Mississippi, including Jackson’s Northside Sun. He also served for many years as a Heisman Trophy voter and the Southern Section Representative for the Heisman Trophy Trust.
Among his many honors, Jimmie was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year in 1961 and Outstanding Mississippian of the Year in 1973. He was a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the University of Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame, and the Football Writers Association of America’s Hall of Fame, and an honorary lifetime member of the American Football Coaches Association. He was awarded the University of Mississippi School of Journalism’s Silver Em Award, the College Sports Information Directors of America Lifetime Achievement Award, the International Association of Sports Museums’ Bill Schroeder Award, and the Football Writers Association of America’s Bert McGrane Award, and was honored by too many local NFF chapters to list.
Jimmie collected even more friends than awards throughout his long life. He was a devoted friend, father, father-in-law, grandfather, and great-grandfather who was dearly loved by many and will be deeply missed by all.
A visitation will be held at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 10, followed by a private graveside service at Rose Hill Cemetery in Brookhaven on March 11. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame or the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.
Sebrell Funeral Home in Ridgeland, Mississippi, is assisting the family with arrangements.