SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Walt Zeboski, who chronicled Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and a succession of California governors as a photographer for The Associated Press, has died. He was 83.
Zeboski died Monday at his home in Sacramento after battling pneumonia. His death was confirmed Tuesday to the AP by his wife, Virginia Zeboski.
She said the family brought her husband home Friday from Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento and provided hospice care for him over the weekend.
Colleagues remembered Zeboski for his journalistic integrity and dedication to the wire service.
“He had a newsman’s instinct,” said Sacramento-based AP photographer Rich Pedroncelli, who described Zeboski as a mentor. “He knew where to be when he needed to be there.”
Company records show Zeboski was hired as a permanent AP employee in 1966 and that his photography career spanned more than three decades, mainly in Sacramento. He covered four California governors, including Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown and George Deukmejian, as well as countless political power players in the state Legislature.
In 1980, he covered all aspects of Reagan’s life on the presidential campaign trail, including a stop in Philadelphia for a fundraiser for then-U.S. Senate candidate Arlen Specter.
Zeboski also captured quiet moments of Reagan and his wife, Nancy, on horseback at their ranch north of Santa Barbara and aboard a campaign plane.
He served as photo editor when colleague Slava “Sal” Veder snapped an image of POWs arriving at Travis Air Force Base from Vietnam as part of “Operation Homecoming” in 1973. The image of a beaming young woman, arms widespread, greeting her father won the Pulitzer Prize.
“I think he was just a consummate photographer, one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said former AP reporter Steve Lawrence, who recalled how Zeboski’s dedication often meant rushing back to the office to develop film.
The photographer also snapped iconic images of the era, including labor leader Cesar Chavez, armed members of the Black Panther Party, U.S. Sen. George McGovern, who lost to President Richard Nixon in 1972 in a historic electoral landslide, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, the infamous Charles Manson disciple who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford during a stop in Sacramento.
Zeboski captured Fromme sitting in a U.S. Marshal’s vehicle as she returned to jail in 1975, an image that continues to get frequent use.
He also captured Queen Elizabeth II’s 1983 visit to Yosemite National Park and the first disabled climber to scale El Capitan.
Virginia Zeboski, 90, said her husband often risked his own safety to get the shot.
“He didn’t complain. He just did what he was told to do,” she said. “One time they had him flying upside down in a helicopter taking pictures of the Yosemite Valley, and that was scary.”
The couple met in Indiana, where he began his AP career as a wire photo operator. The AP bureau was in the offices of The Indianapolis Star, where the two sat across from each other, separated by a glass wall.
They celebrated their 60th anniversary this year.
In addition to his wife, Zeboski is survived by his son, Jan, and seven grandchildren. The family planned a celebration Saturday at their home.
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