Henry Hank Burroughs, 19192000
Photographer; Man of Many Lives, Friends
by Tom Abercrombie
A steadfast friend like Henry Burroughs takes up a lot of room in a persons heart. Hardly surprising mine has been sounding a hollow beat since Hanks quiet passing, at 81, Jan. 14 at his home in Shady Oaks.
There were several facets to this jewel of a man: fashion photographer, foreign correspondent, friend of presidents, piano player, sailor, civic leader, demon tennis player, lecturer, historian. I didnt pretend to comprehend them all. It was in his later incarnation, that of the tweedy bookish country squire, that I came to know him well.
With other veterans from the hurly-burly world of Washington journalism who found refuge along the Chesapeake shore, Hank and I lunched regularly to trade war stories, review books and compare notes on the churning outside world we once patrolled. Hanks insights were always sharply focused. A longtime member of the Anne Arundel Country Library Board, Hank founded two Great Books reader groups in our area, at home as he was with the likes of Plato, Conrad, Herodotus, Swift or Dostoevsky. Whenever he and Marlin Fitzwater began comparing their White House years, other famous names would drop. But Hank would always set them down gently.
Although he voyaged far and wide, Henry Dashiell Burroughs Jr. never forgot his deep roots in the Chesapeake watershed. His great-grandfather was long time a lighthouse keeper at the Annapolis harbor beacon.
Born in Washington, D.C., young Henry spent his boyhood at Indian Head, Maryland. There his grandfather, a U.S. Navy photographer, introduced him to the art of the camera and film developing. Looking back, Hank recalled he was hooked on photography then and there.
He went on to study at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, but his first job was shooting fashion pictures for The Washington Post. Six years later, he signed on with the Associated Press, launching an exciting career through the higher halls of power and across the world. Hank always said he was lucky to have found this front row seat on history.
He covered the Berlin Airlift and the Nuremberg trials in Europe before being assigned to the White House in 1949, there to cover the American presidency for the next quarter century: seven presidents in all from FDR down to Gerald Ford. He traveled in the fateful Kennedy motorcade in Dallas and documented the trauma and chaos that shocked the world. He trained his cameras on a brooding Nixon during the dark days of Watergate.
His perceptive photographs graced the covers of Life and Newsweek and regularly took top honors in the annual news competitions. He served a term as president of the White House News Photographers Association. Colleagues often referred to him as the dean of Washington photographers. In 1993, they awarded him the White House News Photographers Association/Kodak Crystal Eagle award for outstanding service to photojournalism. None of this glory ever went to Hanks head.
Devil cancer dogged Hanks later life, striking down his first wife, Elizabeth, in 1961. Ten years later, it claimed Ann, his second. Then it attacked Hank himself. Six years of radiation and chemotherapy finally drove it into remission, although it cost him one of his shooting eyes.
In 1972, he settled into retirement on the shores of the West River with his new wife, Peg, to begin a new, productive chapter in his life. Its hard to imagine a better match. A striking, energetic civic activist who Hank had met at a party for Tip ONeill, Peg was as passionate about the Chesapeake as he was. They became involved in the West River Federation and Bay conservation groups.
Aboard Carina, their 30-foot cutter, they found time to explore the Bay and its tributaries from top to bottom and twice sailed her south to the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico. Together they presented slide lectures on other travels to Egypt, Turkey, Malta and the British Isles to local schools and museums.
Sharing his love of the camera to the end, Hank spent many of his last days coaching a group of young Southern High School photographers with their project to document life in South County, a book to be published later this year.
No wonder that we grieve in our loss of such an intellectual, such a gentle man, such a friend, this man of many lives.
Our one consolation is that Hank Burroughs lived them all to the full.
Tom Abercrombie of West River retired after nearly four decades as a writer and photographer for National Geographic.
Editors notes: On Jan. 18, Hank Burroughs was buried at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Owensville. A standing room crowd of some 200 people filled pews, aisles and vestibule. Anyone can count their funeral successful if they cant get you in there, noted Abercrombie.
At a celebration of Hanks life that followed at West River Sailing Club in Galesville, he was remembered for his generosity and his devotion to people. Hank knew how to make friends and how to keep them. Its so wonderful to have that legacy, observed friend and former spokesman for presidents Marlin Fitzwater.