TAMPA — Members of the local Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a "gastronomic society" founded in 1248, shared many a multicourse meal in local restaurants with Darrow "Duke" Tully, sipping beaujolais with their poultry and chardonnay with seafood.
Mr. Tully was fluent in a wide range of topics from flying airplanes to ballet, and had the ability to tell a good story.
He had a rich background from which to draw. By the mid 1980s, Mr. Tully was publisher of The Arizona Republic. He was credited with launching the political career of John McCain. An accomplished pilot, Mr. Tully flew with McCain and played simulated combat games with him, according to friend and colleague Bill Shover. McCain even named Mr. Tully the godfather of his daughter, Meghan, Shover said.
Despite that colorful history, Mr. Tully embellished it further with a story about his military record. It was a doozy. Under pressure from a political enemy, Mr. Tully resigned from the Republic in 1985, admitting his heroics as an fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam — his entry into military functions, where he showed up in the dress uniform of an Air Force lieutenant colonel — were all lies.
Mr. Tully, it turns out, never served in the armed forces at all. He apologized and slipped out of the spotlight. A Tampa resident since 1992, he died June 20, the result of a stroke. He was 78.
Local figures have made recent headlines with mysterious or bogus claims to military glory. Bobby Thompson, the subject of a St. Petersburg Times investigation and a founder of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association that was shut down by the state last week, has represented himself as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and a Vietnam veteran. So far, no corroborating records have been found.
Also last week, a magistrate sentenced a Lutz man to probation for violating the Stolen Valor Act. Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes had visited veterans organizations wearing medals he did not earn, including the Navy Cross, Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
But Mr. Tully's claims may be remembered as the gold standard of phony military histories.
"I remember him telling me, emotionally, about how he was shot down in his P-51 in Korea," McCain told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "He told me his back was broken, people dragging him out of the wreckage, him waking up in a body cast. It was quite a stirring story."
Accounts vary as to why. Shover has pointed to Mr. Tully's need to win his father's approval. Mr. Tully told the Republic he had idolized an older brother, a Marine pilot killed in World War II — and also said that he wanted to spruce up his resume.
Mr. Tully's own talents helped him rise through the ranks at several newspapers, becoming president of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency before joining The Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette as publisher in 1978.
The scandal cost him friendships, including McCain's. "When Duke went down, John absolutely walked away from him, didn't even acknowledge he knew him as a friend," said Shover, a former public affairs director at Phoenix Newspapers. A message left with Sen. McCain's Washington, D.C., office on Saturday was not returned.
Mr. Tully resumed his career with Wick Communications in North Dakota, Montana, California and Arizona. He became CEO of Beacon Communications in 1991.
His son, Michael "Mac" Tully, followed his father into the newspaper business and is publisher of the San Jose Mercury News.
Mr. Tully's Westchase neighbors knew him as a crisply dressed man who greeted them warmly as he walked his little dog, Princess. Jim Judy, a friend from the Chaîne group, ate dinners and went on cruises with Mr. Tully and his wife, Victoria, and found him an engaging conversationalist. Judy knew about Mr. Tully's past, but said, "He never discussed that with me."
Karen Fernau, a food writer for the Republic, remembers Mr. Tully as an approachable man who gave newsroom staff hefty raises and was respected.
"The sad thing is that once you get exposed for being a liar, all the other good things you do tend to get lost," Fernau said. "Sometimes you get judged by that one, quirky whopper."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.