It’s with a heavy heart that I submitted my notice recently to leave the staff photographer position for The Peninsula Gateway and The Puyallup Herald, a job I have held since 2003.
I came to the newsrooms after being a paramedic for nearly two decades. I had grown weary of the work and the suffering that I witnessed over those years. Not all of it was bad — I saved a few folks during my service, but I had been worn down by the work.
Having been a bright-eyed junior and senior high school student in Tacoma public schools back in the early 1980s, I had picked up a camera and set off on career exploration field trips to The News Tribune under the guidance of former longtime staff photographer Russ Carmack. I would ride my BMX bicycle to spot-news stories and have the images published in the next day’s newspaper. This gave me a career path and a passion for capturing history through the viewfinder of a camera.
I went into the United States Marines Corps after high school, and when I got out after four years of active-duty service, I repossessed cars while working as a tow truck driver, all the while putting myself through Emergency Medical Technician training and volunteering at Steilacoom Public Safety. I was soon hired in Seattle to work the streets on an ambulance. I applied for and was accepted to the TCC Paramedic Program soon after. I worked as a paramedic after graduation at many different agencies. I even moved to Anacortes to be a paid firefighter/paramedic. I loved the city of Anacortes, but I wanted to return to Pierce County.
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After working as a field paramedic for many years, a windfall tax return provided the cash to buy some camera equipment to reignite my photography passion. I stared freelance work for The Puyallup Herald, and soon after found myself part of the staff at The Peninsula Gateway as the full-time staff photographer. I have never had any formal training as a journalist, but my editor gave me the chance to try.
Being at the newspaper helped me to overcome my damaged heart and soul from being a paramedic for so many years. I learned once again to enjoy people while they weren’t suffering from medical emergencies. I got to meet people not as victims, but as they really are. This helped me immensely to overcome the hurt of so much bearing witness to human tragedy. This photojournalism job got me sober from alcohol, and through an aviation story we were assigned one day, I reignited my delayed dreams of becoming a professional pilot after having attended Clover Park Technical College for two years in the late 90s.
Working at the newspapers helped me to finish my dream of being a commercial pilot. It got me sober. It helped me lose 180 pounds. It gave me lifelong friends. It healed my soul. I’ve always been proud of my work here, and I’ve met and documented thousands of lives. I have watched hundreds of kids go from from elementary students to their graduations, and then onto their adult lives and careers. I have also witnessed tragedy while covering breaking news.
When I passed my commercial checkride in February, I was content with the achievement. My family, friends and some of my extended family in Gig Harbor were asking when I would start flying for a living. I’ll celebrate my 49th birthday at the end of this month, but I never thought I could switch careers.
A quick inquiry to San Juan Airlines in Bellingham turned into a full-time job offer to fly passengers around the North Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. It was a hard decision to make.
A move north, and quitting my longtime career in newspapers to pilot aircraft for a living? Not an easy task.
But as with everything else I’ve done before, I have accepted the challenge. My family is excited for the change, and I’m a little nervous for the task before me.
I will truly miss my time in the news business. It has healed me, it has given me lifelong friends, and for that I am truly grateful.
What will I miss the most? The people. Being a news photographer has exposed me to people and places most folks would never meet or experience. I have literally seen everything because of my time as a paramedic and as a news shooter. From emergencies to bee keepers, new small businesses, and to children growing up, it has truly been a one of a kind experience. Something I could never duplicate or forget.
Thank you to all of people who have made my time in the harbor a life-fulfilling journey of healing, helping and capturing of history.
I will miss you all.