The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 29, 2013

Couple celebrate 50th anniversary with world record recognition, historical heritage visit

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — Lowell Mason, 75, knows his time as the oldest living dwarf, according to Guinness World Records, may be short. An Indian woman claiming to be 113 may one day claim the record.

Mason knows about her, but it's one of the ones he doesn't know about that may take his record.

"I knew when they gave me that title, I thought for sure that there had to be someone older," Mason said. "I've had the title for a year, but I'm OK with it if someone takes it away. I can still say 'former Guinness World Records holder.'"

The title is still his: A search for his name on Guinness' website pulls up the record he has owned since Feb. 16, 2012.

But before that, Lowell's wife, Judy, and her family made an interesting discovery: They found out they are descendants of legendary Native American Pocahontas.

"I found out through my aunts," Judy said. "They had researched it and found that she is related to us from 11 generations ago."

A desire to see her gravestone as well as the Guinness offices gave the couple a reason to go to Great Britain, making for a 50th anniversary vacation that neither one could have ever foreseen.

Small stature, big record

Lowell has familial achondroplasia, otherwise known as congenital dwarfism. Standing less than 4 feet tall, at 75 years old he is in good physical health, except for worn out cartilage in his bones. He uses a walker to get around.

He hasn't known life any other way, he said.

"It's hard for me to think in any other way," he said. "I grew up with the same kids. We started kindergarten together, but I just never thought of myself as different. I mean, I knew I wasn't as tall, but for me it made no difference."

Starting his career early, Lowell sang in his father's Michigan church as a child and at 17 joined up with Cecil Todd in Joplin as a song leader and music director. Now known as Revival Fires, Lowell still works with Todd's ministries.

Throughout his singing career, he was known as "The Mighty Midget," "Little Lowell" and "The World's Smallest Gospel Singer." But it never occurred to Lowell to make that last nickname official -- until his 74th birthday. One of his grandsons, Cory Emmert, asked him a question.

"He asked me how old I was, and I told him 74," Lowell said. "Then he said that he had been looking at Guinness, and saw that the oldest living dwarf was in his 50s, and that we should try to do something about that. I thought it was a good idea, so we dived right in."

Lowell sent an email to the organization and heard back about two days later. He was presented with a massive list of records he would need to prove his age. The list included much more than simply presenting a birth certificate.

"I had to get business people to write letters that they knew me and had known me long enough that I could be the age I was claiming," Lowell said. "It took me probably six months to get all that info."

Weeks went by after Lowell submitted his application. But before he saw anything on Guinness' website, he received another call from Guinness. A woman asked him for a new picture they could use in the 2013 record book, which was released on Sept. 13, 2012. He knew he was in then, he said.

Historical connection

When Lowell and Judy got married on Feb. 18, 1963, Lowell had no idea about the historical figure in Judy's family tree. Neither did Judy.

But after her aunts discovered that branch several years ago, the couple planned on making a 50th-anniversary trip to her grave, located in Gravesend, a town on the south bank of the Thames River in England, in the eastern county of Kent.

The couple made the trip in February. Airfare was covered by friends in Dallas who are retirees of American Airlines, Lowell said. They made their way to Gravesend and found the church where Pocahontas was buried.

"No one knows exactly where she was buried at, but her grave was somewhere beneath the church," Judy said. "The original church burned down about 300 years ago, and they built another church on the property. The people there now were pretty good to tell us the area where they thought she was buried."

While in Gravesend, the couple discovered a lot of history about their ancestor, including how after helping save the life of explorer John Smith, she was captured in 1613 by the English.

But when Pocahontas got the opportunity to go back to her people in the Powhatan tribe, based in Jamestown, Va., she decided to stay in England.

She married tobacco planter John Rolfe in 1614 and became the toast of the town, being presented as a tamed savage. She even gained audience with the queen.

"History says she was probably the first American Indian to become a Christian," Judy said. "She left a big impression. They really hold her in high esteem."

Pocahontas' connection to Gravesend is thin, but fatal. She embarked on a trip back to the U.S. in 1617, but quickly became sick. She died at Gravesend of unknown causes, Lowell said.

Discovering the connection meant a lot to Judy and her family, she said. The couple stayed in Gravesend during their four-day vacation.

London calling

In addition to seeing Gravesend, the couple toured other landmarks such as Stonehenge and the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the bank of the Thames.

And because Lowell is a record holder, he and Judy were able to tour Guinness' headquarters.

The couple received a personal tour, and Lowell was presented with a plaque marking his record, he said.

The office was filled with cardboard cutouts that put Lowell's stature in perspective: He had photos taken of himself standing in front of life-size cutouts of the world's tallest human -- who is 8 feet 3 inches tall -- and his dog. He also got to hold a shoe owned by the world's largest man. Lowell estimated it was about 2-and-a-half feet long.

"When I held it, I thought I could use it as a canoe," Lowell said. He also got the chance to feel tall when he stood by another life-size cutout of the world's smallest woman, who stands at little more than 2 feet tall.

"She didn't hardly come up to my knee," Lowell said. While there, the Masons discovered that Lowell is one of three Missourians recognized by Guinness. The smallest horse and smallest highway-legal car also can be found in the Show-Me State.

Marriage mileage

The unique trip surprised the couple -- although they said they can't picture life without each other, Lowell and Judy both said they never imagined they would spend their golden anniversary in England celebrating historical heritage and record-setting age.

That's saying something, because the couple have experienced plenty as part of the ministries they run. In addition to Lowell's singing -- he had a concert in Virginia last week -- they also have a ministry that donates Bibles to Russian areas and another ministry that provides food and clothing for poverty and disaster-stricken people.

They met at a Christian Convention in Lexington, Ky., in 1962, and currently reside in Carl Junction. They attend Christian Church of Carl Junction.

Through Operation We Care, Lowell said the ministry has sent almost 60 truckloads of food and clothing to areas that have suffered natural disasters.

The couple have traveled to Russia for their Bible ministry, and Lowell said they have delivered more than 2 million Bibles there through American International Ministries.

The couple have worked hard together and feel blessed that they have lived together for 50 years. They have four children, including Emmert and singer Duke Mason, and seven grandchildren.

"After that many years, we don't think of not being together," Judy said. "The Lord has brought us through a lot in that time."

Watch your mouth!

Actually, there is no need around Lowell Mason, who stands at about 3 feet tall. He's heard it all: Midget, dwarf, little person, runt, you name it.

While none of those terms bug him, he knows of others his size who are offended by the term "midget."

"There is a group of little people that is encouraging the idea of being offended by use of the word 'midget,'" Lowell said. "The term in Guinness is 'dwarf,' which is also medical. But I have absolutely no problem with anything like that."