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Cecil Stoughton, 88; Kennedy White House Photographer

Cecil Stoughton was the only photographer on the plane when Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office shortly after John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Cecil Stoughton was the only photographer on the plane when Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office shortly after John F. Kennedy's assassination. (By Cecil Stoughton -- White House)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cecil Stoughton, 88, the White House photographer who shot the iconic photo of Lyndon B. Johnson taking the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, died Nov. 3 at his home in Merritt Island, Fla. He had emphysema, diabetes and pneumonia.

Maj. Stoughton spent much of his career as an Army photographer before becoming the first official White House photographer while serving as a captain in the Army Signal Corps. He shot images of physicist Werner von Braun, who had begun to train astronauts, and Elvis Presley at the time of his discharge from the Army.

Maj. Stoughton's most famous photo was the crowded, tense shot taken hours after Kennedy's death. A solemn Johnson, with his right hand raised, took the oath with the stunned and blood-stained first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at his elbow. The photo, often attributed erroneously to news wire services, is one of the best known of the era because Maj. Stoughton was the only photographer to witness Johnson's swearing in.

"At a traumatic time, in a single photograph, Cecil provided the essential evidence of the continuity of government," said Bobbi Baker Burrows, director of photography at Life magazine and co-author of "The Kennedy Mystique" (2006). "In the confusion that followed the assassination, his photograph told the world that there was a new president, and the country that it was safe."

Maj. Stoughton had taken scores of photos of the Kennedy family since he was assigned to the White House in 1961. He stayed on through 1966 with the Johnson administration and then joined the National Park Service as chief still cameraman.

He attended the second inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon, intending to shoot from the stands behind the presidential party, he told Time magazine. At the last minute, a Secret Service agent told him to move.

Maj. Stoughton, wearing a $19.95 bright blue-and-brown plaid coat, maneuvered to a spot behind the president and first lady, dropped to his knees and began to shoot. Other photographers were out of position for the moment, so few pictures of the actual swearing-in were made.

But some were, and a week later, Maj. Stoughton was summoned to the Park Service director's office where official photos clearly showed the photographer, his Nikon and his plaid coat. His boss and the administration were furious.

Maj. Stoughton wrote an apology to Nixon, and a few weeks later, his photo job was abolished. Maj. Stoughton retired in April 1973.

He was born Jan. 20, 1920, in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Because of a parental rift, he was sent at the age of 9 to Boys Town, the Nebraska home for foundlings. He returned home two years later and attended what is now William Penn University before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1940.

The Army sent him to a photography training course taught by Life magazine's Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Robert Capa. Assigned to the Army's first motion picture unit, he worked under then-Capt. Ronald Reagan and was sent to Guadalcanal.

By 1951, the young officer was based at the Pentagon. His photo of Kennedy waving to his remaining PT-109 crewmates during his inaugural parade was a presidential favorite. Maj. Stoughton's boss, Maj. Gen. Chester Clifton, who had been named military aide to the president, suggested to the Kennedys that they should have an in-house photographer, and he knew just the man.

Kennedy "would tolerate two clicks, and after two frames, that was it -- it was a nice working arrangement and I didn't overstay my welcome. He was the opposite of President Johnson -- I could never take enough pictures to please him," Maj. Stoughton told National Geographic News in 2004.

With Clifton and Hugh Sidey, he wrote "The Memories -- JFK, 1961-1963" (1973). The next year, Maj. Stoughton moved from Alexandria to Florida.

His marriage to Jacqueline Stoughton ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Faith Stoughton of Merritt Island; a son from his first marriage, Stephen Stoughton of Cary, N.C.; three children from his second marriage, Bill Stoughton Jr. and James Stoughton, both of Merritt Island, and a daughter, Sharon Houghton of Melbourne, Fla.; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

In June 2007, Maj. Stoughton appeared on the public television series "Antiques Road Show" with his photographs. The taped segment was rerun Monday night, during a program on presidential antiques. Maj. Stoughton had died about an hour earlier.


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