John Goodwin Tower was born on September 29, 1925 in Houston, Texas to Beryl Goodwin Tower and Joe Z. Tower, a Methodist minister.
John grew up in the various East Texas communities where his father preached. He received his diploma from Beaumont High School in the Spring of 1942 and entered Southwestern University in the Fall of that same year. By June of 1943, John Tower had enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served during World War II on an amphibious gunboat in the Western Pacific. He was discharged from the Navy with the rank of Seaman First Class in March 1946. Tower remained active in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1946 until 1989, retiring with the rank of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate.
After the war, John Tower returned to Southwestern University, where he received a bachelor of arts in political science in 1948. He worked for a time during and after college as a radio announcer at country and western station KTAE in Taylor, Texas. By Spring of 1949, Tower had moved to Dallas and enrolled in graduate courses at Southern Methodist University. While in Dallas, he also worked as an insurance agent. He completed his coursework at Southern Methodist University in the Spring of 1951 and accepted a position as assistant professor of political science at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, a job he held until 1960. In 1952 and 1953, Tower continued his graduate studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. While in London, he conducted field research on the organization of the Conservative Party in Britain which he used for his master’s thesis, “The Conservative Worker in Britain.” He received his master of arts in political science from Southern Methodist University in 1953.
In March of 1952, John Tower married Lou Bullington in Wichita Falls. They had three children during their years in Wichita Falls: Penny, born in 1954, Marian, born in 1955, and Jeanne, born in 1956. John and Lou Tower were divorced in 1976, and Senator Tower married Lila Burt Cummings in 1977. They were divorced in 1987.
While living and working in Wichita Falls, John Tower became active in the Republican Party of Texas. In 1954, he ran an unsuccessful race for state representative from the 81st District, and in 1956 he represented Texas as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. By 1960, Tower was sufficiently well known to be nominated at the Texas State Republican Convention to run against Lyndon B. Johnson for U.S. Senator in the November general election. Johnson easily won the senatorial seat, but he was also elected vice president. William Blakely was appointed to fill the seat which Johnson resigned, and a special election was slated for the spring. Tower entered the special Senate election as a Republican candidate, and, on April 4, 1961, led the field of 70 candidates. William Blakely came in second, forcing a May 27 runoff election that Tower also won. Senator Tower’s election marked the first time a Republican senator had been elected in Texas since 1870 and was seen by many as heralding the arrival of two-party politics in Texas. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1966, 1972 and 1978.
Upon assuming his seat, Senator Tower was assigned to two major committees, the Labor and Public Welfare Committee and the Banking and Currency Committee. He served on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee until 1964. He remained on the Banking and Currency Committee, which became the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in 1971, throughout his Senate career. In 1965, Senator Tower was assigned to the Senate Armed Services Committee where he served continuously until his retirement, chairing the Committee from 1981 until 1984. Senator Tower also served on the Joint Committee on Defense Production from 1963 until 1977 and on the Senate Republican Policy Committee in 1962 and from 1969 until 1984. He was elected by his colleagues to chair the Senate Republican Policy Committee from 1973 to 1984.
Throughout his 24 year career, Senator Tower influenced a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues. As chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, he worked to strengthen and modernize the nation’s defenses. He was widely respected for his skills in guiding legislation through the often complex process by which it is enacted into law. Senator Tower worked to stimulate economic growth, improve opportunities for small business, promote U.S. exports, improve transportation systems, and encourage strong financial institutions and systems. He was also concerned with promoting prosperity in agriculture, the energy industry, fishing and maritime industries, and other areas of commerce particularly important to Texans.
Senator Tower took a leadership role in Republican Party politics in Texas and on the national level. He supported Barry Goldwater for President in 1964, headed Richard Nixon’s Key Issues Committee in 1968, supported Gerald Ford for President in 1976, and worked for the Reagan-Bush tickets in 1980 and 1984, and the Bush-Quayle ticket in 1988. Senator Tower was a member of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1962-1963, 1969-1970, and 1973-1974 and was chairman of the Committee in 1969-1970. He was a Texas delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1980. He also chaired the National Security and Foreign Policy Platform Subcommittee in 1972 and the National Republican Platform Committee in 1980.
Senator Tower maintained close ties with his alma mater, Southwestern University, serving on its Board of Trustees from 1968 through 1991. In 1964, he received the honorary Doctor of Literature degree from the university and was named Distinguished Alumnus in 1968. The Tower-Hester Chair of Political Science, named for Senator Tower and his former professor, George C. Hester, was inaugurated at Southwestern University in 1975.
John Tower retired from the Senate on January 3, 1985. Two weeks later President Ronald Reagan appointed him to be Chief U.S. Negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva with the Soviet Union.
Senator Tower served for fifteen months as chief negotiator and gained the Soviets’ respect for his negotiating skills, knowledge of the issues, and mastery of technical details. In April 1986, he resigned as chief negotiator to pursue personal business. Senator Tower was Distinguished Lecturer in political science at Southern Methodist University from 1986 until 1988 and chaired Tower, Eggers and Greene Consulting, Inc. of Dallas and Washington, D.C., from 1987 to 1991. President Reagan again called Senator Tower into government service in November 1986 when he appointed him to chair the President’s Special Review Board to study the action of the National Security Council and its staff during the Iran-Contra Affair. The Board, which became known as the Tower Commission, issued its report on February 26, 1987. In 1989, Tower was President George Bush’s choice to become Secretary of Defense, but the Senate did not confirm his nomination. The charges, counter-charges, and accusations of the hearings are chronicled in Senator Tower’s 1991 book,Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir. In 1990, President Bush named Tower chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Senator Tower died, along with his daughter Marian, in a commuter plane crash near New Brunswick, Georgia, on April 5, 1991. A dedicated statesman, John Tower will long be remembered for his service to Texas and his country.