John Goodwin Tower was born in Houston, Texas on September 29, 1925. He was educated in the public schools of Houston and Beaumont, Texas. During the Second World War, while attending Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to an amphibious gunboat in the Pacific. He was discharged with the rank of seaman first class in 1946. Throughout his life he was a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, earning the rank of chief boatswain's mate.
Following his military service, John Tower received a B.A. degree from Southwestern University. In 1953, he earned a Masters degree from SMU. He also attended the London School of Economics and Political Science. He became a member of the faculty at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he taught history and Political Science from 1951 to 1960.
John Tower was elected on May 27, 1961 to Lyndon Johnson's U.S. Senate seat, after Lyndon Johnson became vice president. At 35, he was the youngest member of the Senate in the 87th Congress, as well as the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas since the Reconstruction. Senator Tower won this landmark election in a field of 71 candidates.
Senator Tower was reelected three times to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1961 until 1985. He served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from the 93rd to the 98th Congress, and was chairman of the Committee on Armed Services for the 97th and 98th Congresses.
Following his retirement from the Senate, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 to serve as a member of the United States arms negotiation team in Geneva. He also served as chairman of the Tower Commission in 1987 investigating the Iran Contra scandal.
In 1989, Senator Tower was nominated by President George Bush to be Secretary of Defense, but was not confirmed by the Senate. He subsequently founded John Tower and Associates, a consulting firm, with offices in Dallas and Washington, DC. He was also a member of President Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Senator Tower served as a member of the SMU Board of Trustees from 1968-87.
Senator Tower and his daughter Marian G. Tower died in the crash of a commercial aircraft near Brunswick, Georgia, on April 5, 1991.
Southwestern University's Tower Library holds a collection of Senator Tower's papers. A small exhibit from the papers of John G. Tower can be seen in room 231 of the Tower Center, on the second floor of the Carr Collins building at Southern Methodist University. In 2008, Southwestern University and SMU completed a collaborative project to digitalize the documents in the Tower Library, the John G. Tower Media Collection.