James C. Dowdle, who began his career as an advertising salesman for the Chicago Tribune in 1956, retired 43 years later as executive vice president of Tribune Co. — and as the man who brought Harry Caray to the Cubs broadcast booth.
“He was a great executive, a great family man and a great sports fan,” WGN AM 720 host Bob Sirott said Tuesday in a podcast tribute to Dowdle, who was a longtime friend and neighbor. “He knew about Harry [Caray] and he also was very instrumental in the success of Bob Collins at this radio station.”
Dowdle died Monday of congestive heart failure at his home in Wilmette, according to his family. He was 79.
“It’s not the story of your standard corporate America executive vice president,” his son, Jim, vice president of sales for the Food Network, said of his father. “He was obviously very successful and well respected, but also incredibly humble. You never knew the things that he was doing behind the scenes. As busy and professional as he was, he really took a tremendous amount of time to help a lot of people inside and outside of the family.”
A native of the South Side, Dowdle graduated from the University of Notre Dame and served as an officer in the U.S. Marines. After starting with the Chicago Tribune, he worked elsewhere in broadcast sales and management before he was named president and CEO of Tribune Broadcasting Co. in 1981. Ten years later, he was promoted to executive vice president of Tribune Co., overseeing the company’s newspaper publishing, broadcasting and entertainment businesses, including the Cubs.
He served on numerous charity and foundation boards, including Mundelein Seminary, Loyola University Medical Center, Junior Achievement of Chicago and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. In 1992, he was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.
In addition to his son, Dowdle is survived by his wife, Sally, daughters Colleen Burke, Jeanne Dwyer and Sarah Tyrrell, and 18 grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday at Donnellan Family Funeral Services, 10045 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. Funeral mass will be 10 a.m. Saturday at Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Church, 191 Linden Street, Winnetka.