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'dp' creator pens final cartoon

'dp' creator pens final cartoon

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It was like clockwork. The Texas Aggie Band taught former student and A&M administrator Don Powell many life lessons. Foremost, he said, it taught him about uniformity, discipline and punctuality.

"If Col. [E.V.] Adams told us to be somewhere at 10:01, we'd be there at 10:01," he said of his Corps commandant in the '50s.

And so he continued to live by that example.

Each Monday, he would walk in to The Eagle offices and place his timeless "dp" comic strip on executive sports editor Robert Cessna's desk. It would publish every Saturday. And the following week, he'd take back his cartoon and replace it with a new one. For the last 16 years, that was his routine, his rhythm.

If it was up to him, he'd do it forever, but things have changed.

"I finally had to give up," he said. "I called my son and told him I couldn't do it anymore."

The 77-year-old was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in January 2008. In November that same year, it advanced to stage IV. Almost three years later, the cancer is consuming his body.

"He has shown remarkable resilience since his cancer diagnosis," said his wife, Mary Jo Powell. "And has helped others -- including me -- show the same kind of faith, strength and courage."

Aggie ties

On a recent Wednesday, Powell allowed an Eagle reporter to come talk to him one last time.

On a table to the left of his bed sat balloons and an iPod dock. To the right of the regular bed where he lay there was a hospital bed cluttered with letters and pictures. He was the center of attention, though.

In a maroon T-shirt and pajama bottoms, Powell took an injection of morphine to help with the pain and laboriously sat up. Eventually, he told his story.

Powell graduated from Texas A&M in 1956 after serving in the Corps of Cadets, playing in the Aggie Band and earning the slot of editor of The Commentator magazine. His time on campus changed him forever -- and gave him a purpose.

"I was a nothing in high school," said the Ardmore, Okla., native. "I was nobody. When I got to A&M, I got to be somebody."

But he was nowhere near being done with Aggieland.

He left College Station for a six-month stint in the Army.

"In my six months, I kept Fort Chaffee, Ark., safe from Korea," Powell joked.

He followed that up with a successful job at J.C. Penney as a regional operations manager in Oklahoma City, Houston and Corpus Christi. Along the way, he met his first wife, Jane. The two married and had four children -- Chris, Carlton, Clayton and Cathy. They decided to attend graduate school and raise the family in College Station.

Not long after they arrived, Jane was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in July 1971 she passed away. With four children, Powell had to persevere, and that's exactly what he did.

In 1973, he earned a master's degree and doctorate in educational administration and joined the Fiscal Affairs Department at A&M. In 1981, he was promoted to director of business services -- in charge of the largest campus auxiliary services operation in the nation.

His love for the Aggie Band manifested itself in several ways. For almost a decade, he hosted The Texas Aggie Band Show on PBS.

For 20 years, he hosted a television special called Aggie Bonfire, which aired on Fox Sports. And upon his retirement in August 1998, the A&M Board of Regents honored him with the title Director of Business Service Emeritus.

Since 1977, though, his main passion has been creating a weekly sketch on a blank piece of white paper.


"Cartooning is my favorite thing to do," Powell said. "I love it."

The four-fingered, short-limbed character "dp" was born in 1977 when the idea of a sports comic infiltrated Don's mind. For years, he said, he had been mesmerized by the work of the Dallas Morning News' Bill McClanahan, who was deemed the "father of the Southwest Conference cartoon mascots."

So, he went to The Battalion with the idea of a comic. Twice a week during football and basketball seasons, his work ran in print. He called it his true passion -- something he would do for eight hours a day if able.

The premise of "dp" was an unbridled love for Aggie sports -- something mirrored by the artist himself.

"I always admired Don's clever humor regarding football which was depicted in his cartoons," said R.C. Slocum, head Aggie football coach from 1989-2002. "I also respected his great love and support for the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band."

Powell would imprint his personal philosophy: "We never lose," he said to The Battalion in an article published in 1983. "We just run out of time."

He took his always-positive comic strip over to The Eagle in the early 1990s. For almost 20 years, the manifestations of his true passion were published on the pages of the area's only daily newspaper. For him, it truly was a labor of love.

"DP had to spend countless hours on each one, yet he never asked for a penny," Cessna said. "He used his God-given wit and talented brush to make Aggies think, then smile, for decades without any fanfare."

His last comic recently was sketched onto the page with help from his son, Carlton.

He is no longer able to craft "dp" in its entirety. But still, his signature "dp" is scratched in the corner of every comic he's ever penned. All but this last one -- which will be returned to him -- are filed away in his College Station home.

The collection will live on as a lasting, tangible reminder of its creator.

A love story -- his pride

Powell always had an appetite for theater arts. As a member of the Aggie Players, he wrote the first Aggie musical comedy.

In 1976, he took his daughter to the opening night of the play, The Wizard of Oz. The following day, he decided to go again. It was a life-changing decision.

There, The Eagle publisher's secretary, Susan Garza, introduced him to Mary Jo Hibbert. He greeted her by saying that he was "the world-famous Donald Powell." The two chatted for some time and he gave her a ride to her car.

The next day, while at work, she learned that Don was a father of four.

"Being a woman," she said, "I would remember if he had mentioned that he had four children."

He says he had told her; she denies the assertion. To this day, they disagree.

However, he explained his situation -- a widowed father. They felt comfortable with each other. They could be up front with each other.

"We didn't play those games like the kids do now," Don Powell said.

The two walked down the aisle Dec. 27, 1978.

"I'm most proud of marrying Mary Jo," Powell said of his wife of 32 years. "We've had a long, happy marriage. I'm so glad that I married her. We've been happy together."

The couple even researched and co-authored a book -- The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band -- that was published by the Texas A&M Press.

Powell has a saying he often uses in speeches: "A&M is different, but if you rest and relax, pretty soon you'll think this is regular and everything else is strange."

Since he arrived on campus in 1952, A&M has been his normal. Mary Jo Powell arrived in College Station as an outsider.

"He taught me everything I know about being an Aggie," she said. "It's become my family, too."

In his queen-size bed, looking out to his backyard garden of his College Station home with Mary Jo by his side, Powell said he's comfortable, content.

"I'm not scared," he said. "I made my peace with God a long time ago. I'm not scared. I know what's going to happen."

Powell wasn't going to leave without saying goodbye, though.

On Page E3 of today's Game Day in The Eagle, the final "dp" is published. As a footnote, he shares with readers that his cancer "has won."

Though unable to hand-deliver that last comic strip, Powell brought the season-opener into the newsroom a few weeks ago. Aided by a walker, he placed the comic on Cessna's desk.

It was a Monday.

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