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He photographed JFK and Mt. St. Helens. Longtime TNT photographer Bob Rudsit captured the city’s life for 35 years.

His photographic adventures ranged from a bird’s-eye view of a volcano to the Tacoma skyline viewed through a periscope.

Over a 35-year career as a News Tribune photographer, Bob Rudsit’s lens captured presidents and departing soldiers, along with the city’s everyday people and places.

He died Nov. 17 in Gig Harbor, aged 95. Those who worked with him leaned on one word: big.

“He took up a really big space,” said former reporter Dick Ferguson, who came to The News Tribune in 1964, when Rudsit was at his peak. “Bob was one of a kind.”

Born in Philadelphia in 1922, Rudsit spent five years in the army during World War II. He met his future wife, Ida, at a USO dance. They married in November 1945, and raised three children.

Rudsit later completed a liberal arts degree at the University of Puget Sound, and joined The News Tribune staff in 1952.

He covered sports, news and features with equal verve. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower campaigned in the state, Rudsit was there. When President John F. Kennedy touched down in Tacoma in fall 1963, Rudsit followed him throughout the day, and caught a little magic.

He covered sports, news and features with equal verve. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower campaigned in the state, Rudsit was there. When President John F. Kennedy touched down in Tacoma in fall 1963, Rudsit followed him throughout the day, and caught a little magic.

“I was just in the crowd, surging along with everyone else, hustling and pushing and snapping away,” Rudsit recalled in 2013, 50 years later. “Finally, as (Kennedy’s) leaving for the helicopter, I’m there by the fence, and he’s going by. “I said: ‘I’ve been shooting your picture all day, I’d like to shake your hand.’

Robert_Rudsit

“My most memorable (president) was Harry Truman. That guy was spectacular. He’s the only one who really stands out in my mind as a great president. More so than Kennedy.”

The little barb was typical Rudsit. His colleagues remember him as something of an editor’s scourge, never shy about his opinions — but they also remember a pro who never backed down from tough assignments.

“He was very robust, a very strong man,” said Wayne Zimmerman, a one-time photo editor whose career paralleled Rudsit’s. “If anything went wrong, he would be one of the first guys to help you. He would run toward any problem. If you had an assignment and you needed a guy to go right through the crowd and get the picture, you’d send Rudsit.”

Ferguson was a young reporter in 1965 when he was tapped for an assignment with Rudsit that involved a submarine dive on the U.S.S. Remora, a Tench-class submarine, roaming between Old Town and Vashon Island for a naval exercise.

“I remember that clear as a bell,” Ferguson said. “Bob took pictures of the city through the periscope. That was cool.

“Bob was a great photographer. He was bigger than life and a great guy. If you went on an assignment with him, you never had to worry about no conversation, because it was always good.”

Rudsit was a licensed pilot. When Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, he spearheaded The News Tribune’s visual coverage, flying over the volcano and snapping spectacular aerial shots.

Rudsit was a licensed pilot. When Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, he spearheaded The News Tribune’s visual coverage, flying over the volcano and snapping spectacular aerial shots.

“High blood pressure time,” Zimmerman recalled. “Our coverage was way better because of him.”

Rudsit could handle splashy breaking news as well as anyone, but Roland Lund, a general assignment reporter who worked for The News Tribune from 1964 to 1986 and visited with Rudsit a few weeks ago, remembers other gifts.

“He had a zest. Being a really good photojournalist is not just about pointing a camera and taking pictures,” Lund said. “You have to be able to tell a story with a photo, and Bob was excellent at that.”

Lund handled a regular Sunday feature called “Down the Road a Piece,” conceived as a local version of similar stories by famed TV reporter Charles Kuralt. The stories, typically photo-driven essays, covered all sorts of topics; sometimes Lund didn’t know what the outcome would be.

“It was primarily a photographic thing,” he said. “We’d leave in the morning, like on a Wednesday. We had to be back at 5 with a story in the can. Sometimes we had stuff lined up, sometimes we didn’t.

“Bob was at the top of his game doing that. I never had to worry about Bob not coming back with something at the end of the day. He always added quality to what he was doing.”

I never had to worry about Bob not coming back with something at the end of the day. He always added quality to what he was doing.

Roland Lund, retirned TNT reporter

Recalling what he thinks of as Rudsit’s best shot, Lund doesn’t name presidents or volcanoes. He thinks of a day in the late 1960s, when soldiers from Fort Lewis boarded ships at the Port of Tacoma, departing for Vietnam.

Families said goodbye, separated by fences. Rudsit spotted one young woman, visibly pregnant, waving to her husband.

“Bob got this tremendous picture of them kissing,” Lund said. “He titled it, ‘Goodbye, my love.’ ”

The photo was a crusher, but Lund remembered that editors of the time ran a small version, below the fold, preferring a crowd shot instead, much to Rudsit’s annoyance.

The following day, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer used the shot with a different display.

“The P-I took that photo and made it half of their front page,” Lund said. “That told the story of Bob.”

Rudsit’s interests extended beyond journalism. He was an amateur actor, appearing in productions at Tacoma Little Theatre. He played the bagpipes in the local Clan Gordon Bagpipe Band. He was a member of the Tacoma Mountaineers. He was a painter and sculptor, and created works in stained glass.

A boisterous man, he also favored puns, the journalist’s linguistic curse. Longtime News Tribune columnist Denny MacGougan recorded an example in a 1979 column:

Rudsit had been sent to the old City Hall Annex, chasing fanciful rumors of a roaming ghost. Returning from the assignment, Rudsit said he’d seen the ghost, but couldn’t get a picture.

“The spirit was willing,” he said, “but the flash was weak.”

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