by Max Brantley
GENE: In 2007 photo by Johnpaul Jones.
Gene Prescott, a Pearl Harbor survivor, veteran Arkansas Gazette photographer and good guy, died Thursday at 86. Genial and gentle, he was also Marine tough. The family is planning a memorial service March 2. Following is obituary information they provided:
UPDATE: After the family obituary is a piece Doug Smith wrote for an internal Gazette newsletter years ago. Thanks, Michael;
Carroll Eugene "Gene" Prescott, 86, was surrounded by loved ones as he passed away February 18, 2010. Gene was born January 29, 1924 in Okemah, OK. At 17 he joined the United States Marine Corps. He served bravely during WWII, including at the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
After that he became a photojournalist. He worked 4 years for the Fort Smith Times Record and 38 years for the Arkansas Gazette, retiring in 1989. Gene's photos captured history as it happened. He brought us the human side of world leaders, sports figures, and such important stories as the integration of Little Rock Central High. His photos can be seen at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Central High National Historical Site in Little Rock, and the book "25 Years of Arkansas Gazette Photography: 1950-1975," available in the library. His work changed the way we saw the world and each other.
Gene was a member of the Arkansas Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and served as its president for 8 years. He was an active member of Geyer Springs United Methodist Church. Gene loved to make people laugh, made friends everywhere he went, and was devoted to his family. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Ruby; daughters Carolyn Prescott and Marilyn Johnston; granddaughters Kelly Johnston, Ashley Muller and husband Robert, Michelle Hughes and Susan Stampp; great grandchildren Mateos, Robert III, and Brittney; brother Jimmy Prescott and wife Faye; sister Mary Furr; nieces, nephews, and friends. He is preceded in death by his brother Jack and parents John and Ethel Prescott.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. March 2 at Geyer Springs United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The American Cancer Society or Geyer Springs United Methodist Church.
AND FROM THE ARCHIVES
"From the “Gazette’s Gazette,” an internal newsletter, April 1989
Gene’s Seen it All
By Doug Smith
Carroll Eugene “Gene” Prescott is a native of Okemah, Oklahoma and like millions of hot-blooded young American men he left high school to fight World War II. He served with the Marine Corps in the Pacific, and is still something of a student of military history, not that he ever dwelled on his own experiences much.
After the war, he needed civilian work. Somebody asked what he’d like to do and he said he’d always wanted to take pictures. That proved a momentous admission.
His first job as a photographer came in 1948 with the Doc Miller Photo Studio in Fort Smith. Miller had the contract to take pictures for the Fort Smith Southwest Times Record, as well, so Prescott learned news photography too. “I learned it from the ground up,” Prescott says. “I didn’t know nothing about it at all.”
He learned it well enough that in March 1951 he was hired by the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, the state’s largest newspaper, though still not so large as to have batteries of lensmen. Prescott replaced another man. That left the Gazette with a full-time photography staff of two – Chief Photographer Larry Obsitnik and Prescott. Obsitnik was already becoming a legend. Prescott would not be far behind. Others came and went over the years, but Prescott and Obsitnik remained the core for a long time. (The Gazette photography department is now 11 shooters strong.)
Prescott may have been a photographer’s photographer too, and photographers thought he was, but for those on the paper who wrote for a living and accompanied Gene on assignments, he was definitely a reporter’s photographer. Friendly, untemperamental, and eager to consult a reporter on what the reporter believed to be the key news elements of a story. He was also a tough cookie when outside forces threatened to complicate the assignment, and many a pencil-necked reporter was grateful for that.
Ask him now about memorable shots, memorable assignments, and it is not surprising that the request is difficult for him. He has been shooting pictures for the Gazette for 38 years; things tend to run together.“I just believe I enjoyed every assignment I ever went on,” he said. “Every one of them was important to me.”
He does remember Orval Faubus and the school integration crisis of the late ‘50s. “We spent that first year almost every day at Central High.” And he remembers when it was great covering then legislature because a photographer could go where he wanted to. “But I understand the rules and regulations they have now. There are so many photographers. One thing that’s really changed about the media is having so many.”
At 65, Prescott is not sure what he’s going to do in retirement. “It’s going to be an adventure,” he said. “But I’ve treated everything like an adventure anyhow – or I’ve tried to anyway.”
Prescott and his wife, the former Ruby Evelyn Thompson, have two daughters both living in Houston, and three grandchildren.