The man known as the face of Columbus’ daily newspaper, and for his civic involvement and broad knowledge of local history, has died. Harry McCawley was 77.

McCawley, who was associated with The Republic for more than 50 years, died Thursday at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana in Columbus. He had been going through treatment for cancer.

Funeral arrangements are pending at Barkes, Weaver & Glick Funeral Home.

Column: Harry McCawley’s lasting legacy

Share your memories of Harry
Tributes have begun to come in for Harry McCawley, the retired associate editor of The Republic, Bartholomew County historian and community servant. We welcome Republic readers to share their own remembrances in a few paragraphs for publication. Send them by email to editorial@therepublic.com. Please include your name and city of residence.

McCawley was heavily involved in the Columbus community, especially in his role as Bartholomew County historian and in supporting veterans events, such as the annual Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Salute concert, which launched in 2000. The free Memorial Day weekend concert — pitched to Alice Curry and David Bowden of the philharmonic — was McCawley’s idea.

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In a 2013 story announcing his retirement, McCawley said that basically every project he was involved with had a personal component, such as the death of his brother in World War II, which sparked his work on the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans. He was a member of the committee that developed the concept, raised money and oversaw construction of the memorial. He chose and edited excerpts of letters that appear on the columns and was on a committee that helped select names of those who met requirements to be listed.

Born and raised in Bardstown, Kentucky, McCawley spent the majority of his life in Columbus, and for at least 25 years he served as Bartholomew County historian, an unpaid volunteer position. His interest in history wasn’t just a hobby, however. It was a passion.

Among his duties at The Republic were to research and compile the Looking Back column, a roundup of the top news from 10, 25 and 50 years earlier for that particular calendar day. The task involved poring through archives, reviewing microfilm copies of the daily newspaper stored in the newsroom library — conveniently located next to his office — and dust-covered boxes of photo negatives stored in the basement.

He didn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the pursuit of history, which often generated columns that captivated longtime readers.

And with his death Thursday, many of the people he impacted during his life were looking back on a person considered one of a kind.

“We’ve lost someone with a tremendous amount of community leadership and history. I don’t know how that is replaced,” said Jeffrey N. Brown, former Home News Enterprises president and chief executive officer, whose family owned and operated The Republic through six generations for 143 years. “He was a storybook of things and incidents that happened in Columbus over the years. That’s going to be missed,” he added.

McCawley spent his entire newspaper career — 50 years — with one company, Columbus-based Home News Enterprises, later purchased by AIM Media Indiana. Such longevity is unheard of today in the newspaper industry.

“We are very fortunate as a family that Harry McCawley was a part of our company. He was a fantastic part of the team and was such a local institution. He’s going to be sorely missed by the Brown family,” Brown said.

McCawley started with Home News Enterprises in 1963 at the Daily Journal in Franklin before transferring in 1966 to The Evening Republican — as The Republic was known at the time — in Columbus to become sports editor.

He was promoted to managing editor in 1972, where he guided the daily news coverage. In 1986, he became associate editor, in a move that allowed him to get more involved in the community and to write columns and editorials.

“Harry was the heart and soul of our newspaper for the better part of 50 years. In terms of his role in the community, very few have left a bigger mark on Columbus,” said Chuck Wells, publisher of The Republic.

Wells said he always sought McCawley’s input when The Republic dealt with any significant issue and that community leaders did the same.

“It’s a tough loss for the community,” Wells said.

Republic publishers and editors usually had a sense that something big was in the works when a stream of people — be it community leaders, business executives or neighborhood residents — visited McCawley’s office, said Bud Herron, a former publisher of The Republic. The reason people sought him out was simple, Herron said.

“People trusted him. Trust was his big thing,” he said.

Herron compared McCawley’s importance in the community to that of philanthropist and industrialist J. Irwin Miller, because of the influence he had through the newspaper.

In December 2009, McCawley’s longtime involvement was honored by the Hoosier State Press Association. He received the Charlie Biggs Award, presented for an Indiana journalist’s commitment to the community.

“He was the voice of this community. He was the heart and soul of this community in so many ways,” said Sherry Stark, a friend of more than 40 years and former president of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

“He loved this community,” she said, adding that people also loved his homespun style of writing. “Kind of a Norman Rockwell with words.”

Stark also said that local veterans never had a bigger champion than McCawley — himself a veteran, serving in the Kentucky and Indiana Army National Guards from 1962 to 1968.

“Harry was in the fabric of everything having to do with veterans in this community,” said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Pillar, who served with him on veterans committees. That also included selecting the letters of veterans to be read during the Salute concert to helping plan Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, Pillar said.

McCawley always was the leader and the detail person on all of the veterans work, said Zack Ellison, a member of the Bartholomew County Veterans Committee. Ellison recalled an important suggestion McCawley made when they both served on the original committee to build the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans.

“He reminded me that we need to continue to have this veterans memorial be a living monument,” he said. Instead of listing only veterans through the 20th century, it had to include those from the 21st, Ellison said.

McCawley’s idea for the Salute concert also has helped honor veterans and ensure their legacies endure. His work with that concert is an example of how he’s brought people together, said David Bowden, music director and conductor of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.

“He is one of the great institutions that helped create the sense of community this place has because he understands through his experiences and love of the people that the relationships are what made this community,” he said.

Bowden helped give McCawley a patriotic send-off. While visiting him at Our Hospice on Thursday morning, he sang “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” to him.

McCawley’s community involvement also extended to The Republic’s annual Woman of the Year Award that the newspaper started in 1982. He was one of the original champions of creating it and introduced each winner for 35 consecutive years.

Nancy Ann Brown Poynter, the 2015 recipient of the award and Columbus’ mayor at the time it was established, said the award was a big deal because it helped residents learn about women they didn’t know who were doing great things to make the community better.

“Harry enjoyed doing that award,” Brown Poynter said.

When McCawley retired, hundreds of people attended a public reception for him Dec. 4, 2013, at The Commons in downtown Columbus. That night, he was named a Sagamore of the Wabash, one of the highest honors bestowed by the state, a personal tribute given to Hoosiers for distinguished service to the state.

Although his Jan. 3, 2014, retirement meant he didn’t have to come into the office every day, colleagues would see him a couple of times a week as he researched and submitted his weekly column for The Republic’s Opinion Page.

“I consider the column to be a labor of love. If I’m to be remembered for anything, I hope it is as a storyteller about the people of our community,” McCawley told The Republic for the Aug. 2, 2013, story about his retirement.

His final column, published Sept. 7 on The Republic’s Opinion Page, provided insight on two long-held assumptions — that Fortune 200 Cummins would one day move its headquarters from Columbus and that there are no community leaders coming up through the pipeline. But the evidence, he wrote, proves otherwise.

Those who knew McCawley agreed that he will be deeply missed because of the person he was and what he meant to the community.

“He served in the Army and then he served the newspaper, and he served the community in a wonderful way,” Pillar said.

The McCawley file

Age: 77

Born and raised: Bardstown, Kentucky

Education: High school at St. Joseph Preparatory School in Bardstown. Graduated from University of Notre Dame in 1962.

Military experience: Kentucky and Indiana Army National Guards 1962-68.

Newspaper career:

Started in September 1963 with Franklin Daily Journal as an assistant sports editor.

Promoted to sports editor in 1965.

Transferred to Columbus Evening Republican as sports editor in November 1966.

Promoted to managing editor in 1972.

Appointed associate editor in 1986.

Retired Jan. 3, 2014.

Journalistic recognition: Honored for writing and editing achievements by Hoosier State Press Association, Inland Daily Press Association, United Press Indiana News Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists. Received the Charlie Biggs Award in December 2009 from the Hoosier State Press Association for his commitment to his community.

Family: Wife, Julie; son, Chris; daughter-in-law, Misty; grandchildren, Kirsten, Casey, Carly and Gavin.

Community involvement

Here are some of the community projects that Harry McCawley was involved with over the years.

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY MEMORIAL FOR VETERANS: Member of the committee that developed the concept, raised money and oversaw construction of the memorial. An individual role was to choose and edit excerpts of letters that appear on the column. Was part of a subcommittee that selected names of those who met specifications to be listed on the columns.

SALUTE CONCERT: Came up with original idea and worked with Alice Curry and David Bowden of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic in developing the concept and selling it to sponsors. It has been held annually since 2000.

MEMORIAL DAY AND VETERANS DAY OBSERVANCES: Part of a small group that organizes the annual observances at the Memorial for Veterans.

RIVER RATS: 20-year member of the grass-roots group that championed the development and maintenance of Mill Race Park.

ALL AMERICA CITY: Part of the team that put together winning package for Columbus’ selection as an All America City. Researched and wrote original nomination application.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE TASK FORCE: Co-chairman of group that launched several initiatives in effort to fight substance abuse in the early 1990s. Substance abuse had earlier been identified during an assessment as Bartholomew County’s most pressing human need. Major successes included working with local contractors who built a new building for the Columbus Fellowship Club, an organization that offered meeting space for meetings of recovering people; launching Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings for inmates at Bartholomew County Jail; and putting greater emphasis on treatment and counseling.

SAVE THE PAGODA: Started campaign to rescue deteriorating century-old pagoda, which had once served as a judging stand at the county fairgrounds. Grass-roots effort led to building being moved from the old 25th Street Fairgrounds to current 4-H Fairgrounds on County Road 200S, where it is now used as a ticket booth for races.

SAVE THE CRUMP: Worked with Hutch Schumaker in developing the original Save the Crump campaign. Effort kept the theater’s doors open and led to an eventual grant from the state that led to a new and more colorful marquee. Opened as a theater in 1889 at 425 Third St., the Crump closed in March 2014 due to safety hazards.

KENTUCKY CLUB OF SOUTHERN INDIANA: Formed group in an effort that started out as a tongue-in-cheek column about how Kentuckians who had moved to southern Indiana were tired of all the Kentucky jokes and should form their own PAC. Even had a membership application printed with the article. To his surprise, McCawley received more than 400 of those membership applications. He went on to invite everybody to a meeting, and about 200 people showed up. The group, which was formed around 1989, has planned get-togethers a few times a year.

MURALS IN CITY HALL: Came up with the concept of honoring Columbus “characters” with their own murals that were to be displayed in the large meeting room at City Hall. River Rats sponsored the project and asked local artists to submit entries for the competition, depicting the characters in the setting they were known for. He solicited money for commissions from local foundations. Characters honored include Jack the Bum, the hobo who taught thousands of kids to swim at the old swimming hole; Tommy Warner, the city’s longtime Santa Claus; Charlie Kitzinger, who gave kids at the orphanage weekly rides in his touring car; and Carl Miske, head rat of the River Rats.

EXPANSION OF THE VISITORS CENTER: Member of the committee that planned the expansion of the Columbus Area Visitors Center that included an interactive museum and the gift of the Dale Chihuly sculpture.

25th ANNIVERSARY OF COLUMBUS AREA ARTS COUNCIL: Member of the committee that planned activities around the anniversary. Came up with a listing and bios on past and present Columbus personalities who had gone on to great things in the world of art.

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY HISTORIAN: Appointed more than 25 years ago. Main effort was highlighting local history through the newspaper.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.