Thomas Coleman Lowry was born at Okawa, near Fernhill, Hawke's Bay, on 17 February 1898, the eldest child of Helen Caroline Watt and her husband, Thomas Henry Lowry, a sheepfarmer. He belonged to a wealthy and prominent New Zealand family: his paternal grandfather, Thomas Lowry, a graduate of the University of Cambridge, had arrived in New Zealand in 1846 and founded Okawa station. Tom's father, who also attended Cambridge, expanded the station and established the celebrated Okawa Stud, which bred and raced one of Australasia's finest horses, Desert Gold, between 1914 and 1919. His mother was a leading figure in community affairs, serving as local and national president of the New Zealand Red Cross Society, and as president of the Women's Community Club, Hastings.
Tom Lowry was educated at Heretaunga School, Hastings, from 1908 to 1911, then attended Christ's College, Canterbury. Physically large – he stood over six feet tall – he captained the college's First XV, First XI and cadet corps, and was a member of the shooting team. On leaving school in 1916 Lowry trained at the New Zealand Flying School in Auckland. In 1918 he joined the Royal Air Force, but did not see active service during the First World War. While in Auckland he made his first-class cricket début, for Auckland against Wellington in January 1918.
Little is known of Tom Lowry's activities, apart from an occasional reference in the press to big-game hunting in Africa, until he made a record score of 183 in a freshmen's match at Cambridge University, which he attended from 1921. Though not a regular member of the strong Cambridge XI, he began a four-year connection with the Somerset county side during his university vacations, and was selected for the MCC team that toured Australia and New Zealand in 1922–23. Led by the great A. C. MacLaren, the visitors proved too strong for New Zealand's provincial and national teams. Lowry had an undistinguished tour except for the three unofficial test matches, in which he scored 54, 61, 13, and 130. On his return to England he had the distinction of appearing in the annual Gentlemen and Players match at Lord's Cricket Ground, London.
In 1924 Lowry captained both Cambridge and an amateur MCC side that toured the United States. He returned home to represent New Zealand on an Australian tour in 1925–26, where his swashbuckling batting again brought good results, including a century against South Australia. The following season he was persuaded to travel from Hawke's Bay to captain Wellington, which he did for the next six years. During this period, often referred to as the golden age of Wellington cricket, Lowry's team won the Plunket Shield three times.
Tom Lowry captained the first two New Zealand sides to tour England, in 1927 and 1931; on the latter occasion he accepted the added responsibility of managing the team. As a batsman he had the ability to play stubborn defence or violent attack as the situation required. But Lowry's main strength was his captaincy. He was quick to assess opposing batsmen's strengths and weaknesses, and never allowed games to drift, making frequent bowling changes, some of them highly unorthodox. On the field he was aggressive and supremely self-confident, and he inspired confidence in his players. Occasionally he kept wickets and bowled himself, mainly to break the monotony of fielding. Despite his privileged background, Lowry was a forthright and unpretentious man, renowned for his earthy and laconic sense of humour. He would walk out to bat wearing a worn 'old Homburg hat, grasping the bat blade in his big hand and muttering curses about the preceding batsmen or the opposing bowlers, or both'; he appeared to take delight in cocking a snook at his stuffy Cambridge contemporaries.
Lowry retired from first-class cricket in 1933. He was chosen as manager of the 1937 team to tour England, and because of injury was called on to play in 12 matches, scoring 121 against Nottinghamshire. In a cricket career spanning 19 years, Lowry played 198 first-class matches, scoring 9,421 runs at an average of 31.19, with 18 centuries and a highest score of 181. As an occasional bowler he took 49 wickets at a cost of 24.85 runs each. He became a New Zealand selector for two seasons and was president of the New Zealand Cricket Council from 1950 to 1953. He was made a life member of the Cricket Council in 1972, and was an honorary member of the MCC.
On 10 June 1933, at Hastings, Lowry had married Margaret (Margot) Gertrude Russell, the daughter of Gertrude Mary Beetham Williams and her husband, General Sir Andrew Hamilton Russell, who had commanded the New Zealand Division during the First World War, and farmed a property next to Okawa. The couple farmed at Moawhango, near Taihape, and also owned property at Darr River Downs, Longreach, Queensland. On the death of Tom's father in 1944, they returned to Okawa, where they farmed until Tom's death in 1976.
Tom Lowry made a second valuable contribution to New Zealand sport as a racehorse breeder and owner of the Okawa Stud, and as a racing administrator. He bred a number of top gallopers such as Game and Mop, and imported the champion sire Faux Tirage. A foundation member of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Association in 1948, he was on its council until 1976, and served as president for a number of years. He also gave long service to the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club, as a committee member for 21 years and vice president for 15.
In addition to his racing activities, Tom Lowry served on the Napier Harbour Board for 18 years and was a director of a number of companies, including the publishers of NZ Truth, and the stock and station agents Williams and Kettle. He died at Hastings Memorial Hospital on 20 July 1976, survived by Margot, two daughters and two sons.