Richard Drake Mabry
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Richard Drake Mabry, best remembered by his family and friends as the quintessential newspaper man, died on November 22, 2013, of congenital heart failure.
Drake Mabry's journalism credentials were marked by an avid curiosity that made him a front line reporter and editor. His sense of curiosity often left his competitors and colleagues in despair. He came from a family of lawyers in his native south Iowa town of Albia. His given name came from distant relatives: Francis M. Drake, Civil War soldier, governor of Iowa, and founder and initial benefactor of Drake University. From that ancestral line came the spark for his yen for wandering: Sir Francis M. Drake, the British sailor and hero who helped defeat the Spanish Armada before losing his head over Queen Elizabeth I.
Drake's matriculation at Albia High School and the University of Iowa was punctuated by a stint as the manager of the cigar store at the Astor Hotel on Times Square in New York City, and service as an artillery lieutenant in the Korean War. In between those adventures, he met and wrote about some of the giants of American jazz: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Eddie Condon, Sidney and Orville de Paris, Jack Teagarden, and dozens of others. His adventures with Louis Armstrong include Armstrong's recommendations on the special kind of laxative a trumpet player relies on.
Drake's first regular reporting job was in the Iowa music town of Mason City. There he brought his young bride, Mary McEniry, from Melrose, Iowa, where she began her long career as an elementary school teacher. Drake joined the Des Moines Tribune in 1956, at the time the largest circulation afternoon daily in Iowa. Almost immediately, he impressed his bosses because, as an assistant city editor, he never looked up as a deranged pilot terrorized downtown Des Moines by flying up and down the streets between buildings. "Everyone rushed from window to window to watch," said reporter Cliff Millen, "but Mabry just sat there editing." Drake rose through the ranks to become the Tribune's managing editor. His interest in editing and managing transcended his love of the reporter's trade. But he left some indelible marks. He was a widely respected political writer, whose dispatches to the Tribune and its sister paper, the Des Moines Register, provided the nation's first news of Eugene McCarthy's decision to derail Lyndon Johnson's re-election hopes in 1968.
Drake retired as associate editor of the Des Moines Register in 1984, and spent several years on the faculty at Depauw University before returning to Iowa to become managing editor of the Ames Tribune.
In retirement, Drake travelled to Ireland a number of times to pursue his study of that nation's literature. He continued to write and look after his huge collection of prints. Three years after the death of his wife Mary in 1999, Drake looked up and found his college sweetheart, Sally Smith Willer, and they resumed their courtship of 1950. They lived in Des Moines until her death on October 24, 2013.
Drake is survived by two daughters, Anne Mabry (Zemin), of Newark, NJ, and Cathy McMullen (Clark), of Des Moines, and two grandchildren, Myles and Maia Zhang. A visitation will be held on Monday, November 25 at Scottish Rite at 3 p.m., and interment will take place in June in Albia, IA.
Published in Des Moines Register on Nov. 24, 2013