AP photographer ‘had a newsman’s instinct’
By JUDY LIN November 18, 2012 7:14PM
FILE - In this July 19, 1980 file photo taken byWalt Zeboski, Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan props his feet up as wife Nancy, foreground, talks with unidentified woman aboard an airplane, in Los Angeles, bringing the Reagan's back home to California from a brief stopover in Texas. Former Associated Press photographer Walt Zeboski, who chronicled California politics for 30 years and Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, died at age 83 Monday. (AP Photo/Walt Zeboski, File)
Updated: December 20, 2012 6:07AM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Walt Zeboski, who chronicled Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and a succession of California governors as a photographer for the Associated Press, has died. He was 83.
Mr. Zeboski died last week at his home in Sacramento after battling pneumonia, according to his wife, Virginia Zeboski.
Colleagues remembered Mr. Zeboski for his journalistic integrity and dedication to the wire service.
“He had a newsman’s instinct,” said Sacramento-based AP photographer Rich Pedroncelli, who described Mr. Zeboski as a mentor. “He knew where to be when he needed to be there.”
Company records show Mr. Zeboski was hired as a permanent AP employee in 1966 and that his photography career spanned more than three decades, mainly in Sacramento. He covered four California governors, including Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown and George Deukmejian, as well as countless political power players in the state Legislature.
In 1980, he covered all aspects of Reagan’s life on the presidential campaign trail, including a stop in Philadelphia for a fundraiser for then-U.S. Senate candidate Arlen Specter. Mr. Zeboski also captured quiet moments of Reagan and his wife, Nancy, on horseback at their ranch north of Santa Barbara and aboard a campaign plane.
Mr. Zeboski served as photo editor when colleague Slava “Sal” Veder snapped an image of POWs arriving at Travis Air Force Base from Vietnam as part of “Operation Homecoming” in 1973. The image of a beaming young woman, arms widespread, greeting her father, won the Pulitzer Prize.
“I think he was just a consummate photographer, one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said former AP reporter Steve Lawrence, who recalled how Mr. Zeboski’s dedication often meant rushing back to the office to develop film.
The photographer also snapped iconic images of the era, including labor leader Cesar Chavez, armed members of the Black Panther Party, U.S. Sen. George McGovern, who lost to President Richard Nixon in 1972 in a historic electoral landslide, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, the infamous Charles Manson disciple who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford during a stop in Sacramento.
Virginia Zeboski, 90, said her husband often risked his own safety to get the shot.
“He didn’t complain. He just did what he was told to do,” she said. “One time they had him flying upside down in a helicopter taking pictures of the Yosemite Valley, and that was scary.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Zeboski is survived by his son, Jan, and seven grandchildren.