Don Davidson, age 76

BY GEORGE BERKIN The Star-Ledger

Even now, more than 40 years later, the photograph by Don Davidson goes right to the gut.

The parents of Andrew Goodman, one of three civil right workers slain in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964, are entwined in grief as their son's body is removed from a plane at Newark Airport. Taken in August of that year, two months after Goodman disappeared, the photo was selected by the Associated Press as one of the best of the 20th century.

Mr. Davidson, a former Marine who raised a generation of news
photographers as the founder of New Jersey Newsphotos and mentored two Pulitzer Prize winners, died December 16 Friday. He was 76. A resident of Denville, Mr. Davidson died of bone cancer, family members said.

"Don was a perfectionist who expected that standard in others," said Jim Willse, editor of The Star-Ledger. "But he also had a warm side and a wry, quiet sense of humor. We'll miss him deeply."

"He was drill sergeant tough but marshmallow inside," said Stan
Grossfeld, a former employee and an associate editor at The Boston Globe who won two Pulitzer Prizes for photography. "That's why so many guys love him."

A former photographer for the Associated Press, Mr. Davidson began New Jersey Newsphotos in the mid-1960s when Mort Pye, the late editor of The Star-Ledger, suggested the idea, said Dick Koles, a former Newsphotos assignment editor.

The photographs were supplied directly to The Star-Ledger. When it was up and running, Newsphotos had more than 50 photographers and five editors.

"Almost everything I learned about the business was given to me by Don, by example, and most of it was old school," said Steve Klaver, a
Star-Ledger photographer whom Mr. Davidson hired in 1978.

The work atmosphere, Klaver recalled, could be described as military,
with a heart. Shortly after he was hired, for example, Klaver was
putting information to a photograph when Mr. Davidson looked over his
shoulder. "He stood over me while I was typing my captions and it was
getting closer to deadline," Klaver said. "He said to me, Are you sure
Cathy is spelled with a C instead of a K? Because if you're wrong, you
may never work in this business again."

That push to perfection made for close bonds, Klaver said. "We had a lot of rough spots, but we had a lot of close personal moments, like a
father and son should have," Klaver said. "He said, The reason I ride
you more is I expect more, and that was a motivation to get better."

"To sum it up in a sentence, had I ever served under him in combat, I
would have considered it an honor," said Steve Andrascik of Boulder
City, Nev., a former employee of Newsphotos and The Star-Ledger. Indeed, Mr. Davidson had served in combat, Andrascik said.

During the Korean War, he was one of the "Frozen Chosin," some 8,000 U.S. Fighters, mostly Marines, who marched over 75 hazardous miles around a frozen reservoir to escape from 120,000 Chinese soldiers in November 1950, during the coldest year in 100 years.

And during the Vietnam War, Mr. Davidson also went overseas, but that was to investigate what was happening to missing body bags, Andrascik said. The bags were being used to ship drugs, Andrascik said.

So proud of his military service was Mr. Davidson that he enjoyed
getting into his Marine uniform for military holidays, from Veterans'
Day to Memorial Day, friends said. He also was a drum major in a Marine pipe band, playing in England and elsewhere.

While running Newsphotos, Mr. Davidson began a third career. A graduate of New York University, he also graduated from NYU's medical school, which qualified him to do forensic medicine, Andrascik and family members said. "We'd be working the night shift, and he's got his tools laid out," Andrascik said.

To advertise his new profession, Mr. Davidson was fond of putting the
name of his business - 'Medex' - on a vanity license plate. But
photography, both as a boss and earlier, as a photographer, remained his first love.

The photograph of Andrew Goodman's parents is perhaps Mr. Davidson's most well known.

But other photographs struck a lighter tone. Early in his career, for
example, Mr. Davidson snapped a photo of a crying Santa, a picture that was widely published.

On Dec. 31, 1999, New Jersey Newsphotos went out of business when The Star-Ledger began its own photo department and ended its association with Newsphotos. The newspaper hired many of the photographers.

Pim Van Hemmen, assistant managing editor for photography at The Star-Ledger, who worked with Mr. Davidson both as an employee and as a newspaper editor, said Mr. Davidson cared about people." Don could be tough, but he was at his best when you had a personal crisis," Van Hemmen said. "He'd give employees the time they needed to deal with their problems and if they needed money, he'd give them that, too."

In addition to Grossfeld, Mr. Davidson hired Matt Rainey, a current Star-Ledger photographer who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2001.

"To try to explain my father to people who knew him wouldn't be necessary," his daughter, Carole Cook of Westfield, said. "To try to explain him to people who didn't know him would be impossible."

In addition to his daughter, his wife, Maureen, and two sons, Mark Davidson of Villas and Steve Booth of Montville, survive Mr. Davidson.

Visitation is from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Norman Dean Home for Services, 16 Righter Avenue Denville. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday December 19th, at the funeral home. Burial is in Denville
Cemetery


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