Prizewinning photojournalist Wally McNamee, who worked for The Washington Post and Newsweek for more than 40 years, died Friday, Nov. 17, at age 84. “McNamee had a front-row seat observing American history for the latter half of the 20th century,” said friend and Post staff photojournalist John McDonnell. McNamee covered the White House, Capitol Hill, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the Olympics and the presidential campaigns and conventions of 10 presidents.
Post staff writer Bart Barnes, in McNamee’s obituary, wrote: “Among his most memorable pictures was a photograph of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy disembarking from Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Nov. 22, 1963, hours after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, is holding her hand, and she is still wearing the suit stained with the president’s blood spattered on her by the assassin’s bullets. Mr. McNamee later described it as “a graphic touch to this horrible moment.”
McDonnell admired McNamee early in his career and remembers the first time he met him on assignment for The Post in June 1978. He was photographing a peaceful Native American protest at the FBI building and recalls when McNamee came up to him and said “Are you John McDonnell? I want to tell you I’ve always liked your work, I’ve been following you for a while, and I think you’re doing a hell of a job.” McDonnell said McNamee always provided him with feedback about his work and remembers him being supportive and encouraging to him and other photographers.
“To be a good photographer, you have to be really good with people, and that at times can be a very hard thing. McNamee had everybody on his side from the beginning in a tough town,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell watched McNamee use his sense of humor and positive outlook to get people in Washington to say yes to him. “A lot of the times, making the photograph is the last and easiest part; it’s getting the access and getting people to cooperate with you, and I think he was a master at that,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell admired McNamee’s work ethic, creativity and ability to shoot everything from sports to fashion. McNamee was one of the few photographers to accompany President Richard M. Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972, and McDonnell remembers his passion and advocation for photographing foreign stories.
Through the years, McDonnell worked alongside McNamee at many sporting events, such as the Olympics, Super Bowls and Redskins games. And they covered the White House and Capitol Hill together. “I consider him one of my best friends ever. He was one of my mentors for my career and life.” McDonnell said.
The life lesson McNamee taught McDonnell was that “you try to enjoy yourself as much as you possibly can, no matter what. Period. He enjoyed himself, he really did; I watched it, and it rubbed off on me,” McDonnell said.
More on In Sight:
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.