Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bernie Boston, A Great Guy

There were the cowboy boots, ever present. The tuft of silver hair...definately not gray. The smile, beaming like a Colorado sunrise. The nicest, cleanest, snappiest cameras, always a Leica amongst them. The Jaguar, yes there definitely was the Jaguar. What other photographer owned a Jaguar? Can't think of one. Kind of hard to imagine that he's gone. Bernie Boston died today. He was one of those guys who you don't imagine having time to die, as he still had too many things he was working on. He'd moved from DC to the Shenandoah hills after a 40 year newspaper career (Washington Star, Los Angeles Times), and was publisher and photographer (its easier to do that when you ARE the publisher!) of a little mountain newspaper, but it kept his eye sharp, and his trigger finger on the ready. But mostly, Bernie embodied a term that is, frankly, overused. He was a great guy. A Great Guy.


Bernie Boston, photographer (photo by Stephen R Brown)
When I first came to DC in the summer of 1967, Bernie was one of those figures who, once you met them, you'd always remember. I was being taken around the town (the Hill, LBJ's White House) by my mentor, Time photographer Wally Bennett, and in doing so I'd run into all the regulars. George Tames of the Times, Charlie Tasnadi from AP (who passed away just a week ago), and of course Bernie. In '67 he was still working for the Washington Star (ah, the days when there were two big, viable DC papers) and that year he would take the picture of the anti war protester stuffing flowers into the barrel of a soldier's M16 at the march on the Pentagon. That picture, more than most, came to symbolize his career: a great picture, taken at a big event, in the town he loved, Washington D.C. He really was a DC fixture all those years. Like many colleagues, Bernie WAS a White House photographer: by that I mean, someone who worked at the White House covering events for a paper or a wire service or magazine, and who saw in those public events of very public people, the chance to get a private moment: something which illuminated the personage in ways that no other medium could do. He loved DC, he loved the fact that being here meant you were at the center of the action. And I think he shared that feeling which I feel every time I walk past the guard house at the northwest gate: You are entering the White House, the President's House, the People's House; it is never something done lightly. There is an aura about the place, no matter who the President is, no matter which party is in power. The House is above all. When you have that kind of appreciation for the White House, it colors your view of your work. You feel an extra obligation to do something special everytime you enter those gates. It does not breed mediocrity. Bernie loved being there, loved the idea of covering those events which everyone in the country would learn about that night on TV, or the next morning in their paper. It is a very seductive feel, and not a bad one, really.

In North Carolina, in 1982, Bernie and I were invited to speak at a gathering of press photographers. I was in the early stages of my globe trotting, Bernie by and large was doing his Washington thing. It was a good mix. I'd flown down to Fayetteville, but Bernie, typically, had driven his Jaguar from DC. Now I suppose if I had owned a Jaguar, I would have driven, too, and avoided the pitfalls of trying to fly with Piedmont Airlines. On the last night of our stay, after our presentations, we joined in a volley ball game at the home of our host, the chief photog at the local paper. Well, as fate would have it, going for a slam, Bernie fell badly and broke his ankle. We all worried about how he would fend, but Bernie's only real concern was.... Who Would Drive the Jaguar back to Washington? Sadly, I wasn't nominated. That's a trip I would have loved taking.

Bernie was a singular personality. His camera was part of him, yet he was much much more of a gentleman. I don't actually recall him ever bad-mouthing anyone: there are few people I can say that of. I suppose if he had bad-mouthed someone, it would have been right on the money. But Bernie was a class guy, who you could always rely on for a smile, a joke, and a hand if you needed one. I saw him the last time at a party for another photographer, Frank Johnston, in Alexandria last summer. Bernie had rallied from his sick bed, and was forthright about his illness, yet unchanged in his amazing optimism, and positive view of life. One had the impression that Bernie was somehow still waiting to meet most of the six billion folks he hadn't had the chance to meet just yet. Sadly for them, that won't happen. But for me, every time I see a Jag, or a Leica all spruced up, or a pair of cowboy boots that catch my eye, I'll think of that wonderful guy with the camera who brought so much of his life to the lives of the rest of us. We're just sayin.... David

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sad news. I last saw Bernie at an Air Force concert in Orkney Springs, VA. I was there on a church retreat. The Bishop had invited the Air Force band to perform at Shrine Mont, the Episcopal retreat in town.

There was Bernie, the happiest photographer 'cause he was enjoying the heck out of life, photographing the event for his newspaper.

I'm glad I sent him a Christmas Card this year. I hope it brightened his day as much as he always brightened mine.

W

m_harding said...

Thanks David.

Darryl Heikes said...

Bernie was a friend and fellow photographer but mostly a friend. We covered many preidential campaigns together and events everywhere. During the DC riots following the assassination of Dr. King we worked togther on the steets. We were hassled several times but together we just kept on shooting and didn't give up our cameras or lives. The Star used my picture on page one the next day and neither of us ever figured out why.

We have met on many occassions here in the Valley and he came to see me at eh Winchester Rehab Center after my accident in 2005 he was going through rehab after his heart attack at another rehab center here.

We went into DC several times for lunch with old friends, Dirck's book signing and it was so great to talk to him. When Dirck stayed with Dell and me we drove to Bayse to have lunch with Bernie and Peggy and looked at the Leica collection. We always talked about our homes in the valley and who had the better builder.

I will miss our visits.

Cliff said...

First Charlie, now Bernie -- we've lost the finest examples of what a gentleman should be. I feel like I've lost a member of my family.

I will always remember Bernie walking into the White House press room with his face beaming with joy. He always had a bad joke loaded and ready to fire our way. We always laughed -- more so at how terrible the joke was and Bernie was always the first to chuckle.

He's also the only photojournalist I know who beat the fire department, police, and bystanders to cover a plane crash -- his own. Yep, he crashed his plane and immediately started to cover it as a news item for the Washington Star.

Always humble and willing to extend a hand in friendship. Bernie, you are missed.

gary kieffer said...

And then another legend comes to an end. As a very young and inexperienced Army photographer I had my first White House assignment n 1974. Luckily for me I stumbled, literally, into Bernie Boston. He became a lifetime mentor, friend and inspiration.

We travelled to Fayetteville in the Jag. Worked side-by-side on the 14th Street Bridge one horrible night, spent endless hours together at the White House and at our homes. He was a true gentleman. A gifted photographer. A loving husband. And one unforgettable friend.

I will miss his smile and laughter, those terrible jokes and the uncommon knowledge about damn near everything. His cowboy boots and hat were legends as he will always be, I miss you already old friend. There will never be another like you.

Ernie Cox, Jr said...

Wonderful tribute to an amazing guy. Many thanks. And all the heartfelt comments are very touching.

Bernie and I were among the very first black photographers at a major newspaper. We first met in Feb. ’83 when Chuck Scott invited us to speak about black photojournalists to students at Ohio University during black history month. His helpfulness and ready smile were just the first clues as to what a great guy he was.

We became fast friends, and the friendship grew when I was transferred to the Chicago Trib’s D.C. bureau. Bernie showed me the ropes and made sure I knew everything I needed to know. Dawn’s early light often saw Bernie and me hustling over to the White House or Congress, where we were greeted as the Ernie/Bernie Team. By late afternoon, we were bitchin’ cuz both the LA Times and the Trib had used those damn AP pictures, despite all our hard work!

Bernie and I both retired to the Shenandoah Valley and we ended up living only a few blocks from each other. Just as in D.C., Bernie was involved in lots of community activities and was always first in line when someone needed help. Once, after a particularly bad rain storm, the local river washed away a couple little homes. Quietly, Bernie made sure one of the needier families was able to rebuild and get back on their feet.

You all might remember Bernie zooming to assignments in his Jag, but I recall a different set of wheels. My memory is of Bernie coming down the road in a snow storm in a blindingly bright yellow ski jacket, sitting on his gigantic bright orange Kubota to plow us out! Quite a sight.

Of course, I think of Bernie as a terrific photographer. But I think of him more as a terrific friend.

Ernie Cox, Jr

Paul Gero said...

db...

thanks for sharing...that was such a great tribute and he truly was one of a kind...my own welcome to dc came from bernie, who had long time friends at my old paper, the chicago tribune. so bernie kept an eye out for me, dutifully, because his friends had asked him to kind of keep an eye on "the punk" :-).

i still have this vision of bernie, with cowboy hat on, cowboy boots, black domke jacket, domke bag, and a leica off his shoulder hustling past the northwest gate to the press room for an assignment. even though bernie was probably twice my age, he had incredible energy, a youthful outlook, and a laugh that could fill a room...i have a hard time thinking of bernie as anything other than in total motion...

on my first presidential trip, flying on the press charter, heading down to north carolina with president reagan as he met with the marines at camp lejune, bernie made sure the trip was extra special.

on the way back, bernie went back to the galley and politely asked for and received a very nice bottle of champagne and a couple of pan am glasses.

coming back to our seats, he wore a smile that was classic bernie...he thrust out his hand, shook mine, and said congratulations, you survived your first presidential trip...and then proceeded to help me drink the champagne.

those glasses have survived all these years (almost 22 and several moves) and every time i see them i fondly remember bernie and that trip.

pg

Anonymous said...

I met Bernie when I was a new photographer for a local newspaper. I was always welcomed into his house, where he would share advice and encouragement with me. My strongest memories of him are of an incredibly warm, open human being who routinely created front page magic with his Leica and 21mm lens.

The last time I saw him was at the opening of the Air and Space museum at Dulles airport,

http://homepage.mac.com/billh96007/.Pictures/Air%20%26%20Space%201/Bernie-Boston%2C12-15-03%2C8215.jpg

Bernie was one of those people you hope and expect will go on forever. He truly was special.

Bill Hollinger
McLean, VA

nanine said...

David: thank you for writing such a wonderful tribute. I feel fortunate to have met Bernie when I was just starting out as an intern at the Washington Star in 1981. He was the chief photographer at the Star and completely encouraged me in my career as a news photographer. I continued to stay in touch with Bernie and Peggy through the years. He was such a great teacher, sharer, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He had a way of making people feel special who were around him. I will miss my friend very much.
Nanine Hartzenbusch, Charlotte, NC

Anonymous said...

Mr. Boston was a lifelong friend of my father's from the Washington Star. Not sure when I first met him -- perhaps at some crazy party my parents had or else at the Star in the photo lab with it's cool circular entrance and funky smells. My father would take us kids to the paper sometimes for the evening shift to just hang out and surely get in the way but noone seemed to mind. Mr. Boston (find it hard to call him Bernie!) was always so lovely to us, no matter how busy he was. My sister is lucky enough to have a print of that famous peace photo.

Deanna Mesecher said...

Peggy...I don't know whether you remember me or not. It's been a long time. My name is Deanna Mesecher, from Stronghurst, Ill. Now living in Decatur, Ill. for almost 28 years. Bernie took my dad's picture one time walking across the street in Stronghurst. My dad, Virgil Hoffeditz, always cherished that memory. I don't know what happened to the picture. I'm so sorry for your loss. Deanna Mesecher, 3010 E. Mound Rd, Apt108, Decatur, Ill. 62526.

JordanF said...

As a result of the election and all the talk about race relations, I can't understand what everyone was talking about. I roomed with Bernie at RIT for the best part of our second year at school. I never thought about his race, he was just Bernie. I never told him but I had to move out because we were having too good a time and I had to really buckle down just to barely graduate. I remember the first Leica and the running around in his car. Did he ever show you the trick of spinning around a light pole, it was amazing.

I am really sorry to hear that he has passed. Even though we lost contact over the years I often thought of him.

Jordan Freedman

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