Drexel Dwane Powell Jr.
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Drexel Dwane Powell, Jr.

Raleigh

Drexel Dwane Powell, Jr., 74, devoted husband, father, grandfather, uncle and much-loved friend to those who knew him in a nearly 50-year newspaper career or through music and friendship, passed away peacefully April 14, 2019 after a hard fought battle with cancer that inspired those around him for nearly 3.5 years.

He was a gentle soul, merry in his outlook on life, devoted to his family, loyal to his friends and courageous through his final day.

Dwane and the love of his life, Jan, recently celebrated 48 years of marriage. They celebrated their good fortune in life with an adored daughter, Devon, her loving husband, Greg Penny, and a much-loved, energetic 6-year-old grandson Myles, all of Vermont. They survive him, along with many special nieces and nephews, treasured in-laws, and it should be said, a great number of dear friends. Dwane is predeceased by his parents, Drexel D. Powell, Sr., Minnie L. Powell and his brother, David R. Powell.

"Those who knew him" is a phrase that, in Dwane's case, included literally hundreds of thousands of people. That was, in part, thanks to his 35 years as the editorial cartoonist at The News & Observer, during which time he won numerous local, national and international awards and recognitions. These accolades include the National Headliners Award, the Plothound Award, Overseas Press Club Award, the Raleigh City of Arts Award, the Rex Babin Award for best local editorial cartoons, induction into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame and in 2018, recognition from Gov. Roy Cooper with the state's highest honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. To Dwane's delight, Cooper presented his Long Leaf Pine Award in person at one of Dwane's favorite spots, the historic Players Retreat in Raleigh. Dwane donated some portraits of Carolina Hurricane players to the "PR," and they hang over the Dwane Powell booth in the restaurant's main room.

Throughout his career, Dwane was an influential and beloved mentor to many with creative pursuits. He so enjoyed sharing his passion by encouraging individuality and recognition through the arts.

It was a remarkable career in many ways, with an unlikely beginning on a farm in southeast Arkansas growing up during the Jim Crow era. Being raised in this environment strongly formed Dwane's progressive opinions about social justice and racial equality.

Tall, charismatic, and always athletic, he was a football star in high school, and played at the University of Arkansas at Monticello until a shoulder injury — he liked to explain it by showing off the scar — ended his athletic career, and for a while, his academic career as well. But he returned to college after a few delays and graduated with an Agri-Business degree in 1969. After college, Dwane passed on the opportunity to take over the family farm due to a chance encounter with a newspaper editor who suggested that Powell, a renowned doodler, consider looking at cartooning professionally. And so began a unique career path that took Powell to newspapers in Hot Springs, San Antonio and Cincinnati before finding a home in 1975 at The News & Observer. His editor at the conservative leaning Cincinnati paper once asked him, after flinching at a liberal cartoon, "Dwane, are you reading our editorials?" to which he responded, "Yes, but you knew my political leanings, So why did you hire me?". Their response, "Well, we thought you'd be malleable." Soon after, Powell left Ohio to pursue the opportunity with the N&O, a capital city newspaper, where he had more creative freedom and a ripe local and national political climate for his talent to flourish.

Dwane's friends count his caricatures of them among their most prized possessions. He would doodle them at parties, and once, in a tony Raleigh restaurant, covered a linen tablecloth with drawings of his companions. "You know," said the waiter, "you really might make some money at that."

By far, Dwane's most memorable cartooning subjects were two men on opposite ends of the political spectrum — Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and four-term Democratic NC Gov. Jim Hunt. Helms was caricatured by Dwane with a "No" stamp on his desk and huge horn-rimmed eyeglasses. Hunt was pictured always with a large comb stuck in his hair. Both Helms and Hunt had numerous Powell cartoons in their collections and on their office walls — often asking for the originals even after their staff members had criticized the cartoons. Dwane received copious amounts of mail during his career from both ecstatic and not-so-ecstatic readers, he often heard from politicians on both sides of the aisle, including several presidents after they'd been 'stuck' by his pen.

On Dwane's last day at The News & Observer in 2009, Hunt walked from his office in downtown Raleigh to The N&O building on McDowell Street to bid Powell farewell. He brought with him a cartoon he'd taken off of his office wall. Hunt also strongly urged The N&O's editors to print a Powell cartoon at least part-time. (No one who had worked for the newspaper could remember anything like that ever happening before.)

Not long after Dwane's retirement, Ned Barnett of the editorial page did just that, bringing him back to do cartoons in the Sunday edition. Response was immediate and strong, and Dwane kept doing the cartoons until just a few weeks before his death. It also should be noted that Dwane's cartoons were an important part of The News & Observer's Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for its series on the hog industry. It was the highest honor the newspaper has received.

In retirement, Dwane was also honored with an exhibit (still on display) at the City of Raleigh (COR) Museum and a brief biography was made for the UNC-TV series, "The Muse", which was later picked up by 12+ PBS channels around the US. Additionally, Dwane donated his body of work, including upwards of 15,000 original cartoons, to the Southern Historical Archives at the Wilson Library at UNC.

The honors and recognition he received were rare for editorial cartoonists and reflected Dwane's longstanding popularity and influence.

But there was much more to Dwane than his remarkable career. He had an exceptional talent for photography, with many of his images displayed at various businesses throughout North Carolina. Dwane often arose with the daybreak to "get the worm" and catch a glimpse of the sunrise upon the Raleigh skyline with his lens. He was an accomplished guitar player, and was also quite adept on several other instruments. He sang and wrote many songs over the years, some in collaboration with his closest friends. One of the greatest joys of Dwane's life was creating music and sharing that together with his daughter, Devon. She would often add vocal harmonies to whatever recordings he was working on and he beamed when they were making music together. He also played in a number of bands over the years often recruiting new members he'd meet in chance encounters, many of whom became the best of friends. Among these musicians were many cartoonists from all over the country (and Canada), who shared their similar talents in both art and music. These friends, like family, gathered at Dwane's home in his final days to fill the air with music which offered him and his close-knit family much solace.

Dwane was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2015, an extremely rare form of cancer, but he refused to let the illness define him. Initial treatment was difficult, but he came through it remarkably well. His doting wife, Jan, called him "Superman" to friends. And following his early treatment, Dwane returned to riding his bike regularly, traveling the world, drawing weekly cartoons for the N&O, and religiously followed his exercise regime at the Alexander YMCA.

Dwane was determined to keep going despite his illness and to a strong degree, he did. Over the last year, he spent a lot of time telling his friends how much they had meant to him, and that his illness had taught him that he needed to express those feelings, and to tell people he loved them. He met those goals and his friends marveled at his honesty and his bravery. Those memories will for them be his most enduring legacy. His gentle, kind, upbeat and loving disposition will be intensely missed by all who were blessed to know him.

In honor of Dwane, we encourage you to find an adventure in each day, to live with passion and stay connected to what brings you joy. This is how Dwane lived and it inspires us to do the same.

There will be a visitation and celebration of life, open to the public, at the City of Raleigh Museum on Friday, April 19 from 4:30-6:30pm with time for prepared remarks from anyone who would like to share at 6pm. There will be a separate, private gathering by invitation at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Dwane can be made to the City of Raleigh Museum at: 220 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, NC 27601 and/or the Southern Historical Archives at: UNC Libraries, Attn: 575830-Powell, PO Box 309, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The News and Observer on Apr. 17, 2019.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
APR
19
Visitation
04:30 - 06:30 PM
City of Raleigh Museum
APR
19
Celebration of Life
06:00 PM
City of Raleigh Museum
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27 entries
April 11, 2020
I cant believe it has already been a year. Just remember the good times and sweet memories, they will always be with you. Happy Easter my friends
jackie sheppard
Friend
April 11, 2020
Dwane was a treasure to all he touched. His heart was as big as his talent, and that resonated through his lifetime of work. His music was a wonderful reflection of his loving spirit. I will always remember him as a true standard for how we should all embrace and cherish life and its many passions.
Bob Gorrell
Friend
April 19, 2019
I was so sorry to hear of Duane'e passing. I met him years ago when our daughters were in gymnastics together. He even drew a picture of my daughter which I still have. I have always enjoyed his talent. Raleigh has lost a good one. My prayers are with your family.
Debbie Milkowski
April 18, 2019
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April 17, 2019
An excellent artist and commentator. Dwayne was an axcellent mentor to my son. I have thanked him many times for that. He and his work will be missed.
Bobbye Draughon
April 17, 2019
So long old friend. You were really something special. Photo Myanmar 2006
Steve Murray
April 17, 2019
Suzanne and I were sad to read of Dwane's passing. He was older than us but we do remember him in school. The family will be in our prayers.
Tipton and Suzanne Russell Pugh
April 17, 2019
Dear Jan,

I'm still in shock when I heard the news from NPR on Monday afternoon and I couldn't believe it till I confirmed it on-line. I'm so sorry for you and your family's loss, and thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to work with both of you. I will never forgot the kind and encouraging words from Dwane during the process, it means so much especially came from an established and well-respected artist like Dwane. It truly touched my heart. and I will always remember the wonderful experience working with you two. My thoughts are with you and the Powell family.
Hsiang-Ting Yen
April 17, 2019
Dwane was the coolest Powell I ever met. He felt like family right away. He was openminded, funny and kind. I felt a connection to Dwane the minute I met him. He was special.
Love,
Sarah and Pearson
April 17, 2019
What a wonderful man, husband and father. I am honored to have been related to him and will always remember our amazing conversations and the few times we spent together.
Wes Powell
April 17, 2019
Oh, how we hate to see you go, sweet friend; dearly beloved and admired by so many. What a life you have lived and lived well. You will never be forgotten. My condolences and love to Jan and Devon. Yvonne & Michael Sheffield
Yvonne Sheffield
April 17, 2019
Memories are something no one can take away. RIP dear friend. Prayers are with the family so they may find comfort and strength during this sad time.
Jackie Towles Sheppard
April 17, 2019
I remember you and Dwane from Rex Oncology during my volunteer days. You were both so personable and charming. Please know you are in our thoughts and prayers. My husband, Carter, had the good fortune of knowing Dwane well. We will cherish the cartoons Dwane shared with us during the Helms/Hunt campaign years, and will also cherish knowing you both. Warm thoughts and love, Jan, to you and your family.
Page Wrenn
April 17, 2019
I remember you and Dwane from Rex Oncology during my volunteer days. You were both so personable and charming. Please know you are in our thoughts and prayers. My husband, Carter, had the good fortune of knowing Dwane well. We still cherish many original cartoons from the Helms/Hunt campaign years. Love and warm thoughts to you, Jan, and your family.
Page Wrenn
April 17, 2019
When someone you love becomes a memory , the memories becomes a treasure.
May the wonderful treasures fill your heart with love and bring you peace. Our thoughts
and prayers are with you during this time Hoseah 13:14
D
April 17, 2019
Thankful for his friendship....
Patricia Scavo
April 17, 2019
Thankful for his friendship ..
Patricia Scavo
April 17, 2019
In awe of the legacy of Dwane Powell.....also of his wonderful relationship to Jan. Proud to have been the musician at their wedding way back in McGehee, Arkansas.

michael rice
April 17, 2019
Perrin and Jeff Burton
April 17, 2019
Dwane will live in all our hearts as a soulful generous man whose talents touched thousands. He was and is an inspiration to many, including myself. His music and his voice now join with the heavenly choir. Peace.
Bob Gorrell
April 17, 2019
I started helping Jan and Dwane a few years ago to assist them with downsizing from their home on York to the current location in downtown. Dwane and I sat in the floor in the cartoon room every week and sorted those 15,000 cartoons in preparation for them to go to the UNC archives. He would see an older cartoon, crack up laughing and say, I forgot about that one. I should use it again. We had so many chuckles in that room. Then, after the move to downtown, I was helping him organize his genealogy documents. His family history meant so much to him. We read a lot of things, like love letters from his father to his mother, while his dad was at war. It was an emotional time for him and I was grateful to share those moments. Jan patiently let us do our thing.

I've never known anyone like Dwane, with all the great qualities you all know so well.

Jan, ,my sweet friend, I will continue to be their for you. Much love.
Jean Scrivani
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