Henry "Griff" Griffin, 76, who in 45 years as an Associated Press photographer became the chum of presidents while capturing the image of his times on film, died Aug. 22 at Washington Adventist Hospital after a heart attack. He lived in Hyattsville.
In decades of covering the White House and Congress, he won a reputation as a colorful, sometimes profane operator who could open any door in town.
Mr. Griffin, a Baltimore native, began his career in journalism at 16 as a copy boy for the Baltimore Sun. He joined the AP in 1933 in Baltimore as an office boy and junior photographer and transferred to Washington in 1937, where he remained until his retirement in 1978.
He was a war photographer in Europe during World War II and photographed the first U.S. troops arriving in Berlin in 1945.
On the walls of his home are some of the photographs he prized most highly of the thousands he made: Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe at the United Nations; Jacqueline Kennedy and her daughter, Caroline, kissing President Kennedy's casket; Sen. Barry Goldwater comically poking his fingers through the empty spaces of a pair of glasses with no lenses.
He won an award in the 1952 White House News Photographers Association picture competition for a picture of President Truman helping Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the president-elect, up the steps of Blair House.
Once, when he was setting up a photo of Eisenhower, a wall clock he was arranging fell on the president's head, drawing blood. He was AP's photographer on board Truman's "whistlestop" campaign train in 1948. He covered the Army-McCarthy hearings and the Senate Watergate hearings. He played a photographer in "Advise and Consent," the classic 1962 movie set in the Senate.
Mr. Griffin was a founder of the Senate Press Photographer's Gallery and served as its chairman from 1956 through 1962.
Always aggressive in the pursuit of a good picture, Mr. Griffin once rented a fishing boat at Annapolis to photograph Lord Halifax, the new British ambassador, as he arrived aboard HMS King George V. Mr. Griffin's boat bumped the British battleship, and British sailors shouted at him to get out of the area.
"'Go to hell! We were here first!" Mr. Griffin shouted back.
He and Truman became close after Mr. Griffin fell off a plane accompanying Truman to Kansas City, Mo., in 1949. Those standing in line to get off heard the ramp hit the side of the chartered press plane and opened the door. Mr. Griffin stepped out into thin air. The ground crew had pulled the ramp away to change position, and Mr. Griffin fell to the tarmac, badly injured.
Truman ordered him flown back to Washington on the president's plane and, at Mr. Griffin's request, sent beer to his hospital room.
Mr. Griffin's first wife, Barbara, died in 1976. His second wife, Josephine, died in 1990. Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Ronald E., of Huntingtown, Md., and Carole Colvin of College Park; and three grandchildren.