In 2015, 11 years after I got off my last coast-to-coast flight covering my last Presidential election as a photographer, a photo editor in Washington called to see if I might be interested in a contract to cover the 2016 Presidential election.
The 13-month contract would take me around the country, away from Floyd and my wife, but would pay more than enough to make it worth considering.
It also meant giving up my contract covering courts and county government as a reporter for The Floyd Press and, if needed, other BH Media newspapers, along with photographing high school sports, FloydFest and other events for the paper.
It also meant not filming the Old Times Fiddlers Convention for television as well as sporadic assignments from cable and satellite news outlets like CNN and MSNBC.
Amy and I came to Floyd in 2004, selling our condo where we lived for 23 years in Arlington. I covered news and shot photos in Washington, throughout the country, and around the world for many of those years but also worked as a political operative for a dozen of them — a venture away from journalism that I regret and have apologized for often.
When terrorists attacked America in 2001, I shot photos of the Pentagon and the aftermath. I shot images of conflict in other parts of the world. I was offered a spot as an embed for a unit for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but Amy said she had “a bad feeling about you being there” and I had learned many years earlier to listen to her “bad feelings.” Not doing would be hazardous to my health.
As it turned out, I lost two close friends in Iraq, one serving where I might have been. There’s no guarantee that I would have been at the same place in the same time but it meant Amy might have been right — again.
Over the past half century, I have been extremely lucky to be in places where news happens: The events of 2001, the crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, the massive anti-war demonstration against Vietnam in Washington in 1969 along with many other places.
In the 1990s, I interviewed a “security specialist” about his offer to protect an American gold mine in the Philippines. He turned out to be an early member of a then largely unknown group called Al Qaeda. I found that out when the FBI visited me after I returned to America from that trip.
Amy and I saw Cal Rypin play in his final game for the Baltimore Orioles. We saw the century turn in Times Square in New York and celebrated another New Year’s Eve in Piccadilly Circus in London.
She was with me when I photographed the prayer wall in Jerusalem and visited the Palestinian refugee camps in Israel.
She worried at home when I was in war torn areas of the world and was always there to meet me when I cleared immigration at the airport after returning home.
As a newspaperman, I wasn’t that talented as a writer. I could write declarative sentences and dig out information from those who wanted to hide it. As a photographer, I had more luck than talent.
I thought such days were pretty much over when I walked down the jetway at Dulles International Airport in November, 2004 on the day after the election. When our purchase of our house in Floyd along with some acreage, we looked forward to a quiet life and time spent taking care of my mother in her failing and final years.
When Wanda Combs asked me to shoot a football game, then some basketball, I was happy to pick up my cameras again. When she asked me to cover the board of supervisors and then later circuit court, I had a chance to continue using my reporting and writing abilities.
Then the phone rang on the morning of of April 16, 2007 with a call from a photo editor in Washington, asking if I could get to Blacksburg. There had been a shooting on campus. Over the next several days, I photographed the worst mass murder in a school to that date.
My photos were back on wire services and my name returned to the call list of that photo editor and others. Calls came in over the next few years to shoot photos of candidates or scenes of crimes. Video I had shot of the son of a candidate ended up on CNN when that kid later attacked his father and killed himself.
When the call came in 2015 with the possibility of a 13-month assignment on the road covering another Presidential campaign, Amy and I discussed it and we jointly decided that it was not something I should do at this point in our lives.
I love what I do here in Floyd. I went to high school here and my newspaper career began with The Floyd Press in 1962 when Pete Hallman, then editor and owner of the paper, offered me a job writing and taking photos when I was 15 and a freshman in high school. I spent five years as a reporter and photographer at the Roanoke Times before moving on to another newspaper in Illinois (The Telegraph in Alton) and then on to Washington.
We moved back to Floyd after 39 years away primarily to take care of my mother but I also found a home at the newspaper where I started.
Taking the job for the 2016 Presidential campaign would have taken me away again after being back for more than a decade.
“You should do it,” the editor said. “I feel this election could be a game changer.”
It was and I’m back to writing political columns for a national web site and some op-ed pieces for newspapers.
But I also head into Floyd this morning to cover Circuit Court, then Supervisors tonight at the second monthly meeting of the board.
On Thursday, I pack my cameras into the car and head for Harrisonburg to photograph the quarterfinal state tournament match between the Floyd County High School Lady Buffaloes. If they win that game and then the semi-final match at James Madison University, I will be in Richmond next week to shoot the state championship game at Virginia Commonwealth University.
I’m a newspaperman. I may be an “enemy of the people” in the mind of our new President because of what I do but who the hell cares that he thinks?
It’s what I do and I love it. In the end, that is more than enough for us.