My brush with a Kennedy

Central Michigan University, in Mt. Pleasant, MI, hosted the 1975 Special Olympics International Games. It was a huge deal. Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was attending the event. I had just graduated from high school and was already working at the local daily newspaper.

During the opening ceremonies, I was assigned to cover stage events and speeches while our other photographer, Dale Atkins, roamed for more exciting pictures. I didn't care. Being just weeks out of high school and already living my dream as a newspaper photographer so who was I to complain.

As expected, I got the typical politician at the mic picture. Over and over and over again. Everyone who was anyone came out for the games. Finally, it was Mrs. Shriver's turn at the podium. By this time the light was high in the sky and extremely harsh. She was my money shot, the one the editor wanted for page one. I had to get this right. So I trained my brand new Nikon Ftn and 200mm f/4 Nikkor on her face. The successful picture came when she pushed her hair off her right ear. Her arm formed the perfect side of a triangle and provided for a dynamic composition. The editor loved it and ran it huge on page one the next morning.

When I saw the paper, I was thrilled. Well, for an hour or so. Seemed Mrs. Shriver did not like the picture. In fact, she hated it so much she called a friend, the owner, and publisher of the newspaper chain, and demanded I be fired, effective immediately. How dare I portray her with such course, wrinkled and unflattering skin! Forget the fact she spent most of her time on a sailboat in the ocean!

Thankfully, the editor had my back, so I didn't get fired. But I wasn't allowed to photograph Mrs. Shriver at any time during the games. In fact, I was told to stay clear of her, as far away as possible. So for the rest of the most significant event in local history, I was all but sidelined.

Looking back at those events today I laugh. My career nearly ended all because I made an honest, straightforward picture of a powerful and influential person, and they didn't like how they appeared. It was the first, but wouldn't be the last time I stepped on toes as a photojournalist.

 

 Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the 1975 International Special Olympics opening ceremonies.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the 1975 International Special Olympics opening ceremonies.