BANGOR – Veteran Bangor Daily News photographer Bob DeLong of Brewer died after a short illness Friday in Bangor at age 68.
“Bob DeLong was the epitome of the professional newspaper photographer,” Bangor Daily News Executive Editor Mark Woodward said. “He was versatile, flexible, infinitely creative and above all, extremely mature, kind and good-natured. You could count on Bob to follow through on any assignment, and no matter how routine or challenging the shoot, he would bring back much more than you anticipated.”
DeLong retired from the paper in February 2002 after 22 years as a BDN “shooter” and a total of 34 years with the paper.
“Bob DeLong was a great photojournalist and an even better human being,” said Mike Dowd, managing editor. “He was a friend and mentor to dozens of photographers, editors and reporters over the years, including me. In our sadness at his passing we have the consolation of the thousands of priceless moments Bob shared with us, many of which he preserved forever with his camera.”
As a photographer, he covered fires, police arrests, accidents, ribbon cuttings, four generations of a Maine family, new Anah Temple Shrine officers, a spring benefit for the Bangor Junior League, and the Bangor Savings Bank clock whenever the temperature went over 100 degrees.
“My contention was that some of those photos are still necessary to serve as records of what happened,” DeLong told reporter A.J. Higgins for a story about his retirement six years ago. “So, yeah, I don’t think they all have to be Pulitzer Prize winners.”
His long and varied career at the BDN began in 1968 in the composing room where he worked as a typographer. DeLong set up advertisements by hand with hot-lead type and zinc-plated, halftone photographic engravings called cuts.
Changes in the industry over the next decade prompted the paper’s move to a “cold-type” process. DeLong, who during the 1970s had worked as a freelance photographer for United Press International, moved into the BDN’s photography department in 1980.
Over the years, DeLong lived through major changes in the way photographers did their jobs. Through most of the ’80s, he and his colleagues captured images on black-and-white film. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the paper began using color film, and as the new millennium dawned, DeLong made the transition to the digital age.
“Bob was ahead of his time, a true visual journalist long before the term was common,” Woodward said. “And he saw the future, too, 10 years ago leading his newspaper in its conversion to digital photography from conventional film.”
“He could be summed up in just a few words: ‘What a great guy,'” said Photo Editor Scott Haskell, who began working at the paper in 1977. “Among a group of creative, sometimes temperamental journalists, he always seemed to be a sea of calm and consistency. He was consistently positive and upbeat, seemingly unflappable. He was always up for tackling any story, any challenge.”
Many assignments involved taking pictures in a dangerous situation such as a police standoff, but only once did DeLong find himself directly in front of a police officer with a drawn and loaded revolver.
A Bangor teenager had a gun and was pointing it directly at the officer. One bullet in the boy’s stomach later, everyone found out that the teen’s gun was a fake and the policeman’s was real.
“I was a long ways away with a huge lens, but it looked like I was standing just behind the kid in the viewfinder,” he said shortly before he retired. “When the cop pulled the trigger, it looked like he was pointing the gun right at me. I dropped right to the ground because I thought I was going to get it. It was scary as hell.”
One reporter who spent a lot of time at scenes like the one DeLong described was Renee Ordway, who now writes a weekly column for the BDN.
“I’ve worked with a lot of photographers over the years and there were none better than Bob,” she said. “There was no one as sensitive to the subjects they were shooting than he was. Through the years he and I covered homicides, fatal car crashes, fires and even funerals.
“While knowing he had a job to do,” Ordway continued, “Bob never for a moment forgot about the people behind the tragedies that we were covering. He did his job in the most unintrusive way possible, treating each person he photographed with the utmost respect.”
DeLong’s former colleague Jack Loftus, who retired from the BDN in 2001, theorized that it might have been the photographer’s years in the Navy in the late 1950s that allowed him to remain “always on an even keel.”
“He always kept his eye in the viewfinder and would come back with the picture to tell the story,” Loftus of Penobscot said. “Bob was a great technician. He never under- or overexposed a negative. He paid attention to those technical details and that made him a lot different from other photographers.”
Often DeLong gave young, inexperienced reporters confidence when their editors and colleagues could not.
“It was November 1997, the opening day of the winter sports season,” recalled Jessica Bloch, a former sports reporter who now is on the Lifestyle desk, “and I was at MDI High School to cover the first high school basketball story of my career, which at that point was all of four months old. I was nervous to interview the basketball coach, but Bob put me at ease. We stood together and watched basketball practice, talked about how things were going for me in my new job, and he shared some stories of the high school basketball tournament. I never forgot that.”
Because of his demeanor, the photographer often got away with things other people couldn’t.
“To this day,” Bloch said, “Bob is the only person I have ever let call me Jessie. For some reason, that nickname, which I usually don’t like, sounded just fine coming from him.”
DeLong was a storyteller not just with his photographs, Haskell said, but in the images he painted in stories he shared with friends and co-workers.
“He had a memory of everything Maine,” DeLong’s former boss said. “He was especially proud of his Aroostook County upbringing, telling stories of potato farming and his family’s lumbering in the woods of the Allagash region.
“Several times I heard him tell of the time his father rousted him from his sleep before dawn on a frigid winter morning in The County,” Haskell said, “telling him there was something he would never see again in his life. He was led outside to examine a thermometer that read minus 60 Fahrenheit. Bob remembered how absolutely still it was in that pre-dawn moment, saying he never saw anything close to it the rest of his life.”
DeLong reflected on his career and his retirement in the “Pictures of the Year 2002” section published annually by the BDN.
“Over the years,” he wrote, “the pages of the Bangor Daily News have given me the opportunity, through my photos, to tell stories, show happiness, sadness, accomplishment, failure, relief, despair and, I hope, to show readers something they might not have had time to see themselves.
“Grabbing a moment in history and preserving it for the future – will I miss it? You bet.”
No more than the photographers, reporters and editors who worked with DeLong over the years will miss him, Woodward said.
“Bob was a colleague, friend and artist,” he said. “We miss him, his million-dollar smile and his gentle, reassuring manner, but we can share forever in the legacy of his exceptional work.”
DeLong was born Oct. 12, 1939, in Mapleton, the son of Rodney and Beulah (Ireland) DeLong. He is survived by his wife, Priscilla (Strang) DeLong, son, Michael DeLong, and daughter, Karen DeLong, all of Brewer.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Brookings-Smith Clark-Piper Chapel, 55 S. Main St., Brewer.