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Sowry was born in Palmerston North. His education included a American Field Service exchange to Minnesota and a Diploma of Business Administration from Victoria University of Wellington. After working for a time at the Valuation Department, Sowry was employed as a retail manager.
Sowry joined the National Party in 1977, and was active in its youth wing. In the 1987 elections, he unsuccessfully challenged Labour Party MP Margaret Shields in the Kapiti electorate. In the 1990 elections, however, he defeated Shields and entered Parliament. Sowry kept the seat until the 1996 elections, when he unsuccessfully contested the new Otaki seat and became a list MP.
In 1993, Sowry was appointed as his party's Junior Whip, and in 1995, he became Senior Whip. In December 1996, he was elevated to Cabinet, becoming Minister of Social Welfare. In 1998, the role was reorganised, becoming Minister of Social Services, Work and Income. He also served for a time as Minister in charge of War Pensions, Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation (state houses), and Associate Minister of Health. In January 1999, he was given special responsibility for co-ordinating National's relationship with the groups that it relied upon for support (Mauri Pacific, Mana Wahine, and others).
In October 2001, when Bill English displaced Jenny Shipley as leader of the National Party, Sowry (who had played a significant role in English's rise) became National's deputy leader. He remained in this position until English himself was displaced by Don Brash in October 2003.
On 13 July 2004, Sowry announced that he would not seek re-election, saying that he was looking for a change of career. Some have speculated that there were tensions between Sowry and the party's new leadership, but Sowry denied this. Brash publically praised Sowry's "outstanding contribution" over the years.
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