Wally McNamee, considered one of the leading photojournalists in the world, died Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, in Virginia.
Wallace William McNamee began his career in the news business in 1950 as a copy boy at The Washington Post – with an eye to becoming a sports writer. Those plans took a detour as he started hanging around the photo department. Before too long – sports writing didn’t seem like it was going to be his career path. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and trained at Combat Photography School where he learned the technical aspects of photography and the fundamentals of his craft alongside fellow student and lifelong friend Eddie Adams. After tours of Japan and Korea, McNamee returned to Washington and was rehired by The Washington Post in 1955.
McNamee began a career as a photojournalist that would span more than 40 years. In 1957 Wally, in the very early years of his career, was named Photographer of the Year by the White House News Photographer Association. This was the first of four times he was honored by the WHNPA as Photographer of the Year. He was awarded POY in 1968, 1974 and 1983.
McNamee worked at The Washington Post for 13 years, covering many of the nation’s leading stories, including the role of the United States in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the Washington Redskins and the administrations of President Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
In 1969, McNamee moved to Newsweek magazine as a fulltime staff photographer and went on to produce more than 100 covers for the magazine. His career at Newsweek encompassed the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
At the magazine, he won numerous awards from the WHNPA, World Press Association and the NPPA. Besides presidents McNamee also covered the Olympics from 1976 to 1996; Willie Nelson (a personal favorite of his); the evolving story of the return of Vietnam veterans; and the Washington Redskins. He also participated in the Day in the Life book projects in Australia, Russia, Spain, the United States, and China.
The story of Vietnam veterans, when he was the photographer for Newsweek’s Special Projects Unit, which won a National Magazine Award for “Charlie Company: What Vietnam Did to Us,” an investigation ten years after the conflict into the lives of people who had served in Vietnam.
In 2000, McNamee was the recipient of the WHNPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2005 the National Press Photographers Association honored him with the prestigious Joseph Sprague Memorial Award. In 2000 when asked for a brief description of McNamee, Bob Daugherty of The Associated Press said, “He is one of the most humble, unassuming, talented and most professional individuals I’ve ever worked alongside. His images are usually quite simple – simply damn good. His secret is his keen eye of course, but beyond that, his love of people. He is a collector of characters.”
Dennis Brack who worked alongside Wally for many years in Washington said of McNamee, “A unique aspect of our profession is that some of our competitors are our best friends. Wally, a competitor, was a best friend to all of us. Two words come to mind. Respect, a professional in every way who generated our respect. Anticipation is the key to great news photography. Wally was there before you even thought of it. We will all miss that distinctive voice that brought a little humor to sometimes difficult situations.”
The Wally McNamee Photographic Archive is housed at the Dolph Briscoe Center of the University of Texas. The Archive consists of more than 300,000 images in a variety of formats, including color and black and white negatives, transparencies, and prints spanning from the early 1950’s through the late 1990’s.
The archive includes a remarkable variety of people and events documented by McNamee during his professional career, ranging from politics to the war in Vietnam to some of the most memorable sporting events of the 20th century. Other highlights of this remarkable archive include celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Mick Jagger, the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, the American bicentennial, the Iran-Contra affair, the disaster at Three Mile Island and the lifestyles of everyday Americans.
A memorial service will be held on Dec. 2 at 2pm at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 2609 N. Glebe Rd, Arlington, Va., 22207.
The family suggests memorial contributions be sent to The Committee to Protect Journalists.