Robert O. Lowery

Robert O. Lowery

Robert Oliver Lowery (1916–2001) was sworn in as the 21st Fire Commissioner of the City of New York by Mayor John V. Lindsay on January 1, 1966 and served in that position until his resignation on September 29, 1973.

Lowery was appointed as a fireman in 1941. He was promoted to fire marshal in 1946, and that same year won a commendation for arresting a man for 30 acts of arson and burglary. In 1960, he was cited for capturing an armed arsonist, and the next year became an acting lieutenant in the Bureau of Fire Investigation. [ [ Vulcan Society FDNY - Vulcan Society History] ]

On November 14, 1963, Lowery was appointed Deputy Fire Commissioner. [ [ NEGRO APPOINTED DEPUTY FIRE AIDE; Lowery Succeeds Ortiz - New York Times - Page 21 - November 15, 1963] ] He addressed the racial issue straightforwardly, striving to increase the proportion of blacks and the sensitivity of whites. He also raised the number of black firefighters assigned to black neighborhoods, as well as the number of blacks in leadership roles.

On November 23, 1965, incoming Mayor Lindsay announced the appointment of Lowery as Fire Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department. His was the first commissioner level appointment announced by the Mayor-elect. Lowery, who was the first African American to serve as a Fire Commissioner of a major U.S. city, served in that position for more than 7 years until his resignation on September 29, 1973 in order to campaign for then-Controller Abraham D. Beame, the Democratic candidate for Mayor. [ [ LINDSAY SELECTS A NEGRO TO HEAD FIRE DEPARTMENT; Lowery, Democrat, Will Be First of His Race to Hold That Commissionership - New York Times - Page 1 - November 24, 1965] ]

Lowery died on July 24, 2001 in New York, New York at the age of 85. [ [ Robert Lowery, First Black Fire Commissioner, Dies at 85 - New York Times - Late Edition - Final, Section C, Page 13 - July 27, 2001] ]


Either as tribute or by happenstance, his name is shown prominently in a scene of the first movie The Godfather, printed in bold red letters on a hospital fire safety box in the scene where Michael Corleone protects his father against would-be assassins in the absence of his bodyguards. The action is set to be prior to 1946, however, so the reference is anachronistic.


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