Photographer Joseph Edward Lucas

Photographer Joseph Edward Lucas

Joe Lucas was a gregarious iconoclast, an uncompromising defender of civil liberties and human rights and a passionate Atheist, preaching to all who would listen.

He was born on Jan. 19, 1933, to Anna Kathryn Thaidigsman and Joseph Biddle Lucas in the Riverside, New Jersey, home built in the 1890s by his German immigrant grandparents.

He died of cardiopulmonary disease March 28, 2014, in hospice in Mt. Holly, 11 miles from his birthplace. He was 81.

Joe Lucas

Joe Lucas at Snoqualmie Falls, Washington in June, 2009. Photo by Holly Lucas

He was politically engaged to the very end, contributing to Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, signing online petitions and joining the American Civil Liberties Union in championing whistle-blower Edward Snowden as a patriot.

Besides Snowden, his heroes were journalists, activists and artists. He loved muckraker Jack Anderson, writer Molly Ivins, columnist Jim Hightower  and commentator Bill Moyers. Before the folk singer’s death in 2014, he campaigned to have Pete Seeger nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He delighted in building things from scratch, be it a model airplane, a catamaran, a culinary creation or a computer.

A voracious reader and collector of tools, music and recipes, he was philosophically opposed to filing systems, hierarchies and rules, with the exception of the rules of grammar.

The exuberant hugger of trees and of people was happiest experiencing and photographing the outdoors with his family. His photographs celebrate the Alaska/Canada Highway, California’s Yosemite National Park,  Washington’s Hoh Rainforest, Texas’ Big Bend National ParkMaine’s Mount Desert Island,  Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument and his beloved Jersey Pine Barrrens.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Charlotte Katherine “Holly” Lucas, his children: Charlotte-Anne Lucas and her husband Bill Waldrop, Wendy Lucas and her husband Jay Weatherbee, Kevin Lucas and his wife, Mary Giovaninni; his sister, Kathryn Franklin, and her husband, Henry; his brother, David Lucas, and his wife, Kathy; nine nieces and nephews; nine grand-nieces and grand-nephews and scores of cousins.

A gathering in remembrance will be held May 24 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill N.J. For more details, click here. Our family asks that donations in his memory be made to NOWCastSA or to the Humane Society of Central Washington.

Coming next: The Early Years; The Photographer, The Activist…

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My Dad’s life through a new lens

I struggle to write my Dad’s obit. And then I rewrite it. And rewrite it again.

Charlotte-Anne and Turtle by Joseph Lucas

Charlotte-Anne and a turtle at Lake Oswego, 1956. Photo by Joseph Lucas

Where in the world to start?

My Dad taught me to read before I entered Kindergarden, he taught me to be a photographer, how to build and fly radio control model airplanes, how to fish, how to paddle a canoe and how to rebuild the engine in a car.

Most of all, he taught me how to think, and he stoked my passion for social justice. For my 14th birthday on Nov. 15, 1969, he granted my wish by taking me to Washington, D.C. to march against the War in Vietnam.

Because I could, I sewed a gib sail for the catamaran he made from two canoes, I took him to lunch with Texas writer and iconoclast Molly Ivins, and I married a man who loved him and liked talking to him.

But the fact is, since his death on March 28, 2014, the meaning and truth of my Dad’s life ~ and the meaning of my own life ~ is changing.

There are facts, but there are no longer hard and fast truths about our lives ~ the truth and meaning are fluid, evolving.

I understand this a little better now, thanks to a generous and wise friend who pointed me to Robert A. Neimeyer, a psychologist who believes the central process in grieving is responding to the loss by reconstructing meaning.  (Book here: http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/431651A.aspx video here: http://youtu.be/xYS0W-Ulg4g)

So I will take the obit and the story of his life in bites, reconstructing the meaning in chapters. Starting with the facts and finding the truth as I go.

I love you Dad.

{{hugs}}

 

Raising hell and having fun

So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it.

Lord, let your laughter ring forth.

Molly Ivins

I am one lucky journo.

So many times in the past 30 years I paused, looked up to the heavens, and thanked the stars that someone was actually paying me to do this fabulous journalism thing.

But as my friend Amy Gahran lamented today in her E-Media Tidbits column, that spirit is long gone from newspaper newsrooms today.

As I know from up-close and personal experience, many newsrooms have been poisoned by a hateful blend of slash, blame and holier-than-thou attitude.

May they all be encased in amber. Soon.

As my friend Molly Ivins once wrote, “I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying – it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”

That’s not the culture that lured me into this business, but it is what drove me away.

Once again, though, I got lucky.

My students at UNLV are wonderfully enthusiastic about committing solid, ethical, world-changing and interesting journalism.

They are curious sponges, soaking up every “how-to” and “why” as fast as I can dish it out. They’re excited about experimenting with cell phones and useful tools with wacky names like Twitter and Netvibes and Utterz and Drupal. (Lookout guys, Ning‘s next!)

In this faux town, they chose grounded and interesting beats, including poverty, health and nutrition, women’s health, feminism, the diverse neighborhood near the university, celebrity philanthropy, animals, parking, podcasting, social networking, UNLV basketball, Rebel sports, street racing in Vegas, (update) a local’s guide to Vegas entertainment, a critical look at cosmetic surgery, the NFL Draft and the environment.

They understand that there may be no “man” to go work for, and that they are responsible for establishing their credibility, their brand.

Their stories are relevant, engaging, full of facts, context and staying power.

They are the future.

And ya’ know what, Molly?

We’re having fun!

Telling the truth, not just the facts

Note: I was asked to be on Nevada Public Radio’s KNPR State of Nevada program on Oct. 2 with host Dave Berns and Marvin Kitman discuss Kitman’s piece in The Nation Magazine proposing that CBS Evening News hire Keith Olbermann, the opinionated host of Countdown on MSNBC. Here’s a link to the audio from the show. which also included a lively discussion of whether the notion of “objectivity” in journalism is still valid. Below is what I wrote about in advance of the conversation:

In a corner of my jewelry box, tucked inside a fold of pink velvet fabric, lies a small, gold-colored pin in the shape of a motorcycle.

Motorcycle pin

Someone on Texas Governor Ann Richards’ staff handed me that pin during a particularly broiling day on the campaign trail in the summer of 1994.

I was a business reporter for the Dallas Morning News and had flown that morning to the Texas border town of McAllen to watch her speak and to wait in the wings until I could interview her on the flight back to Austin.

It was well past dark, but her trademark bouffant was still impeccable when she finally climbed into the small plane, slid wearily into a bench seat, and then used her toes to push her shoes off under the table between us.

Looking back, it’s clear that was a pivotal moment in history. Richards’ race for re-election against challenger George W. Bush marked the first statewide election since the 1991 demise of the Dallas Times Herald, where many of us worked in the 1980s. Over on the Gulf Coast, the once powerful Houston Post was taking its final gasps on life support, thanks to the blood-sucking ways of Billie Dean Singleton. In the spring of 1995, Hearst Corp. would buy the Post’s corpse and eliminate any competition for the legendarily lethargic Houston Chronicle. In South Texas, Hearst had already bought the San Antonio Express-News from Rupert Murdoch in 1992 and then extinguished its own paper across the street, the Light.

It was the end of the great Texas newspaper wars, a 20-year run that began when Los Angeles-based Times Mirror bought the Times Herald and lit a fire under the newsroom, releasing an energy that produced some dazzlingly superb journalism there, across the street and across the state. Snuffing that spirit marked the beginning of the overthinking, overcautious, underdelivering, arrogantly boring era of newspapers. The survivors embarked on a death march to become the least offensive to the powers-that-be and the most irrelevant to their readers.

The motorcycle pin, a trinket for Richards’ donors, was a souvenir of the irreverence and the spunk that had pervaded Texas journalism. It was a nod to the July 1992 Texas Monthly magazine cover that depicted Richards in a fringed white leather outfit, astride a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, framed by the headline, “White Hot Mama.”

She’d gotten a motorcycle license for her 60th birthday (here’s a picture) and the Monthly immortalized (and romanticized ) the moment.

Richards was tougher than leather. She could wield words like a stiletto, and never lose her smile. “Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth,” she famously said of George W.’s father during her keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention.

But that night on the plane, she was the opposite of a sound bite. Asked about “bidness,” as some called it in Texas, she talked about education. She couldn’t say enough about the importance of investing in children’s education today to ensure the economy’s health tomorrow. The former schoolteacher didn’t lecture, she just talked.

I remember being struck by how much “there” there was beneath the silver hair. While the engines droned on through the dark Texas sky, Richards the philosopher spoke clearly, thoughtfully, and in long, articulate sentences that showed her deep appreciation for the complexity of people, the economy, the state of Texas and life.

That didn’t interest my editors in the least.

My first draft, which quoted her extensively, was, in their view, not properly critical. To rectify that, the story went through the food processor of a committee-edit. What emerged included one paraphrase of one sentence from Richards, lots of remarks from her “critics” and a statement in her defense from an aide. The editors were then satisfied that the story was suitably fair and balanced.

The story that was published did many things, but it didn’t tell the truth.

Ann Richards lost the election. She was replaced in the governor’s mansion by a swaggering young man who pretends to this day to be a Texan.

In March of 1995, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy question and answer article on some newly private citizens, including Richards with New York’s Mario Coumo and Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut.

My husband read that piece at the time and pointed it out to me as something worth reading.

“I had no idea she was so philosophical,” he said. I winced, wishing for a do-over.

In the years since then, the little motorcycle pin hasn’t tarnished.

But newspapers have continued to shed their luster and their verve, going out of their way to avoid the kind of smart, fearless journalism practiced almost to her dying day by my onetime colleague, Times Herald alum and loyal friend of Ann Richards, Molly Ivins.

Without the truth serum of competition, the ideal at newspapers seems to be toothlessness and truthlessness.

Stories are recitations of “he-said, she-said,” while a sanctimonious cloak of objectivity is supposed to somehow justify the lack of context, perspective or real meaning. Any article that dares suggest straightforwardly that the president is lying is tucked into an inside page.

If the truth gets out, perhaps that is because the reporter slipped the essence of the story in the graphic next to the article to “sneak” it into the paper, as a friend of mine once did at the Dallas Morning News.

Instead of flailing against the Internet, television, talk radio, bloggers or the external demon du jour, perhaps newspaper editors should give up the shallow facade of objectivity and reinject some old fashioned truth-seeking and truth-telling. (Here at PolitiFact, for instance, they’re even brave enough to call things true or false!)

Because thanks to the moveable type of publishing technology, the competition’s back in town. And they will win readers away with the simple siren song of truth.