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FOWLER, HOMER THOMAS WILSON [WICK]

FOWLER, HOMER THOMAS WILSON [WICK] (1909–1972). Homer T. (Wick) Fowler, reporter and producer of Wick Fowler's Two-Alarm Chili, was born in Big Sandy, Texas, in 1909, the son of Isaac Dudley and Lola Viola (Glass) Fowler. He was reared in Victoria, attended the University of Texas, and began his career in 1932 as a crime reporter for the Austin Statesman (see AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN). He worked as a Capitol correspondent for the International News Service and the Austin American before turning to employment as a city detective and highway patrolman. He also spent three years as an investigator for the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities.

In 1943 Fowler joined the Dallas Morning News and became the first Texas reporter to go overseas in World War II. His assignment was to cover Texans, but his role extended to that of goodwill ambassador, and he was occasionally called in to give the troops a laugh. He traveled to Italy and France and followed Gen. George S. Patton into Germany. In Italy, Fowler worked with Ernie Pyle at Anzio and received a Purple Heart when the press building was bombed. He also followed the Pacific island fighting to Japan and was one of the first journalists to enter Hiroshima after the United States bombed that city. After he returned to the Dallas Morning News, his editor asked him for an expense account. Fowler reluctantly obliged after several months. On the back of an envelope, he wrote, `Covering war-$2,000.' The editor paid him.

When the war ended, Fowler was in great demand as a speaker, making an estimated 282 speeches in one year. He loved to be in the public eye, a characteristic that served him well when he was leader of the Chili Appreciation Society International. During the decade after the war he worked as a roving correspondent for the News, as executive assistant to Governor Allan Shivers, as administrative assistant to Senator William Blakley, and as managing editor of the Midland Reporter Telegram. In 1954 Fowler started his own newspaper, called the State Journal, which reported legislative news. That year the masthead included the modest subheading, "Published at the State Capitol by Wick Fowler." The next year, the subhead read, "Published in the interest of sound, conservative government."

The war in Vietnam brought Fowler back to wartime reporting. In 1965 he asked the editor of the Denton Record-Chronicle to send him to Vietnam, thus ending publication of his weekly News Digest, which had seen only forty-three issues. He came back from Vietnam feeling that too many Americans thought of the war as a false alarm. He dubbed himself the military-affairs editor of the Denton paper. On his next trip to Vietnam in 1969, he took with him several cases of chili mix, which put him in the position to start the Da Nang Branch of the Chili Appreciation Society International. During his second trip he syndicated his stories to fifteen newspapers to get greater circulation for his articles, but the motive was hardly financial. One daily offered him fifteen dollars per article, but Fowler said, "Based on your circulation, you have no business paying that much. Make it $10." In 1970 Fowler was back in Vietnam, this time with Texas businessman H. Ross Perot, to seek the release of American prisoners of war. In 1971 he ran for Place Five on the Austin City Council on a law-and-order platform and placed second in a run-off election.

In 1964 Fowler started his chili company, called Wick Fowler's Two-Alarm Chili. The renowned chili competition at Terlingua began in 1967 when a humorist from Mount Kisco, New York, named H. Allen Smith, challenged Francis Tolbert of the Dallas Morning News to a cook-off. Smith claimed that no one in Texas could make proper chili. A reader suggested that Fowler answer the challenge, which he did. Two-hundred fifty persons attended the first contest, which ended in a tie. Fowler was in his element at an event like this; he arrived wearing a huge sombrero and carrying his chili secrets in a crumpled paper bag.

In 1937 he married Margaret Elizabeth O'Farrell; the couple had two children. They were divorced in 1964, and in 1968 Fowler married Zelda Bess Blailock Reed. He received the Press Award from the Press Club of Dallas in 1966. Fowler was a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism society. He died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) on September 22, 1972. Ernie Pyle had written about Fowler to George B. Dealey, "He fit in quicker than any other correspondent who has ever showed up in the war zone, and everybody likes him instantly."

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, September 27, 1972. Ginger Banks, "Chili King`Escapes'," Texas Parade, June 1969. Frank X. Tolbert, "Tolbert's Texas" Scrapbook, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Alice M. Shukalo

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Alice M. Shukalo, "FOWLER, HOMER THOMAS WILSON [WICK]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffo50), accessed August 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.