Downs Matthews, ABC, IABC Fellow, a consummate communicator and a role model for many IABC members throughout his stellar career, died 18 October in Houston, Texas. Respected for his skill and beloved for his charm, Matthews, 89, helped set the standard of excellence for organizational communication in Houston and around the globe.
As an early member and president of the Society of Associated Industrial Editors, Matthews oversaw its merger into the International Council of Industrial Editors (ICIE) in 1953. Twenty years later, he helped organize the 1973 conference during which ICIE was reorganized as IABC. Matthews was one of the first Accredited Business Communicators and was named an IABC Fellow in 1977.
A communication strategist before his time
Matthews was a communication strategist long before such a term was in common use, and an advocate of using surveys and other metrics to demonstrate the value of organizational communication. He received at least 35 IABC Gold Quill Awards and dozens of other honors during his corporate career. Matthews accomplished all this with a self-deprecating attitude and twinkling eye, and generously gave of his expertise for the IABC Houston chapter as well as the global IABC organization. He was named a Life Member of IABC Houston in 1995 and in May 2014 received the IABC Houston Legacy Award.
From Exxon to wildlife exploration
Matthews’ impressive career started at Schlumberger Well Services in 1948, where he established their employee communication function. After 20 years, he moved to Exxon, where for many years he edited The Lamp, a precedent-setting public affairs magazine.
In 1986, Matthews left Exxon to launch a productive second career as a freelance writer and editor. One project, as Exxon’s official archivist for the Exxon Valdez cleanup in Alaska, led to a continuing interest in polar wildlife. He and Canadian photographer Dan Guravich, Ph.D., partnered on photographic essays that detailed Arctic wildlife. In 1992, they were the first Western journalists to visit and document polar bears on Russia’s Wrangel Island. The two also wrote essays on wetland ecosystems and the Latin American rain forests. Matthews’ 11 published books include a series of natural science books for young readers.
Matthews once commented, “For most of my working life, I have written about the people and technologies of organizations involved in some aspect of the petroleum business. As a student of the earth sciences, I was able to indulge a penchant for travel and a fascination with the great outdoors. As a freelancer, I have been able to direct these interests into natural science and far-off places.”
Jitterbugging and whiskey
Matthews was preceded in death by his beloved “Madie,” Marianne Reeder Matthews, and is survived by one son, Mark Allen Matthews, of Kemah, Texas, one daughter, Lisa Matthews Inman, of Dripping Springs, Texas, and one brother, Gerald David Matthews, of Walla Walla, Washington. Informing friends of his passing, his caretaker (and surrogate daughter) Colette Chapman noted that he was “already playing boogie-woogie and jitterbugging with Marianne, with a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey close by.”