Photographer Douglas Chevalier

Douglas Chevalier first joined The Washington Post in 1947 and became a full-time photographer in 1952. In his more than 30 years with The Post, he worked with a wide range of subjects, including presidents, car crashes and food.
Douglas Chevalier first joined The Washington Post in 1947 and became a full-time photographer in 1952. In his more than 30 years with The Post, he worked with a wide range of subjects, including presidents, car crashes and food. (Gary Cameron - The Washington Post)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

Douglas Chevalier, a Washington Post photographer who covered seven presidents and thousands of news stories in more than 30 years at the newspaper, died June 5 of a respiratory infection at his home in Venice, Fla. He was 87.

Mr. Chevalier had unlimited scope as a photographer, covering inaugural balls, accidents, riots, nature stories and long-term projects. He worked before the digital age, when photographers elbowed one another out of the way in busy darkrooms in order to meet their daily deadlines.

Taking up photography as a sideline early in his career while working as a freelance reporter, Mr. Chevalier first joined The Post in 1947 and became a full-time photographer in 1952. He covered the 1953 inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the 1963 funeral of John F. Kennedy, as well as the 1968 riots in downtown Washington and the Watergate hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.

Mr. Chevalier won awards from the White House News Photographers Association in 1957 for a smiling portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower at a baseball game and for a 1981 shot of a tearful Amy Carter boarding Air Force One for the last time after her father lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan.

On Jan. 13, 1982, Mr. Chevalier covered the crash of Air Florida Flight 90, which plunged into the icy Potomac River, killing 78 people, including four motorists on the 14th Street Bridge. Standing on the bridge for hours in snowy 24-degree weather, Mr. Chevalier captured the drama of the scene as four passengers were rescued from the freezing water.

In the late 1960s, he was assigned to The Post's Sunday magazine, then called Potomac, where he worked on several long-term projects on environmental topics. Over a period of several months, he and a reporter canoed the entire length of the Potomac River, and he later did a similar story documenting the Chesapeake Bay.

For all his hard-hitting news photography, Mr. Chevalier was equally adept at shooting portraits for the Style section or images of wild mushrooms for the Food pages. One of his best-loved photographs, his daughter said, was a 1979 close-up of a squirrel standing among springtime tulips in a downtown park. He retired from The Post in 1985.

"He always had a great visual eye," said Frank Johnston, a longtime colleague at The Post. "Doug was easygoing but very sophisticated. He had a very nice way of dealing with people."

Mr. Chevalier was born Aug. 21, 1919, in Moutier, Switzerland, and came to the United States with his family when he was 5. He grew up in Lebanon Springs, N.Y., and spoke fluent French throughout his life.

During the Depression, he rode the rails across the country for several months before enrolling at Syracuse University in New York. He served with an Army communications unit in Europe during World War II.

While studying at Kenyon College in Ohio after the war, Mr. Chevalier took an interest in photography, buying a secondhand Speed Graphic to take pictures to accompany stories he wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other papers. He worked in Neenah, Wis., before coming to Washington and completing his education with a bachelor's degree in political science from George Washington University.

For a short time in the mid-1950s, he wrote an outdoors column for The Post, and he worked for several months at the International News Photo service in 1955-56 before returning to The Post.

Mr. Chevalier took a one-year sabbatical in the 1970s to travel in France and to work on fine-art photographic projects. After his retirement, he had an exhibition of black-and-white images taken in the Metro system, and he showed other works at a gallery in Bethesda. He also taught photography at Glen Echo Park and Montgomery College.

He lived in Bethesda before moving to Florida five years ago.

An early marriage ended in divorce.

His second wife, Helen Werner Chevalier, died in 1970.

Survivors include his wife of 35 years, Nancy Young Chevalier of Venice, Fla.; three children from his second marriage, Kim Chevalier of Soulan, France, Michael Chevalier of Salida, Colo., and Tracy Chevalier, author of "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and other novels, of London; and three grandchildren.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company