(The following is an article plus the obituary of Charles Sidney Killebrew, Jr. from the "Rocky Mount Telegram)"

Charlie Killebrew dies after decades of photographing life in Twin Counties

By Mike Hixenbaugh, Rocky Mount Telegram

Saturday, May 02, 2009

For most of his life, Charlie Killebrew watched the world transform through the lens of a camera.

Described by friends as a patient observer, Killebrew snapped hundreds of thousands of photos during the span of six decades: freezing time during pivotal civil rights protests, presidential visits, natural disasters and countless Rocky Mount celebrations.

Killebrew, a long-time Telegram photographer, died late Friday at the age of 87.

“Charlie was everywhere,” Rocky Mount Assistant City Manger Peter Varney said. “Literally, he was everywhere in the community. He was a common sight just about anytime there was a gathering of people, anytime there was an event or a football game or a parade; Charlie was up front where everyone could see him, snapping photos.”

Killebrew started at the Telegram in 1946. He spent the next 55 years taking photographs of government officials, tobacco crops, local festivals and anything else worth seeing in the Twin Counties. The totality of his work amounted to what longtime friend Milton Fields called a “historical catalogue” of more than five decades of change.

Killebrew’s lifetime work is preserved through a collection of about 500,000 negatives stored at Braswell Memorial Library and in state archives. Officials at the library have begun the work of scanning his photos to further preserve Killebrew’s legacy through the digital age.

“He covered just about everything there was to cover,” Fields said. “If it happened in Rocky Mount, Charlie usually had a photograph or two of the event and a comment or two about what happened there.”

A Tarboro native, Killebrew joined the Air Force after high school and took an interest in photography, reading every book he could find on the subject. When he left the service in 1945, he was offered a job at The Evening Telegram.

After 10 years, Killebrew moved into an office a block down from the newspaper on Howard Street. He expanded on his staff responsibilities by taking on private enterprises, shooting weddings, portraits and aerial photography for mapping.

Killebrew kept all the negatives from his countless assignments over the years in boxes, neatly organized by date. By 2003, Fields said he realized how vulnerable – and valuable – his friend’s collection was.

“I knew Charlie had something special in those negatives,” Fields said. “I felt we needed to protect them.”

Through his lens, Killebrew captured images of former President Harry S. Truman’s visit to Nashville, local basketball icon Phil Ford’s rise to stardom and the damage caused by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

In a letter provided by Fields written to former Braswell Memorial Library Director Martha Turney, an unidentified state historian called Killebrew’s collection a “treasure.”

“Any academic or research library in the South, and probably the nation, would do all it could to receive a collection such as Killebrew’s photographs, ” the historian said, after having visited Killebrew’s Howard Street studio. “Simply put, in those three rooms may be found the history of Rocky Mount in photos.”

In a previous Telegram interview toward the end of his life, Killebrew said he learned on the fly during his early years with the newspaper. Ultimately, he grew into the craft that over the years became his passion, he said.

Penn Stallard, Killebrew’s daughter, said the man she knew as her father was a funny, likeable, curmudgeon. Stallard remembers lugging equipment for her dad and staying up late waiting for him to come home after shooting an accident or plane crash.

“He made a huge contribution to local history,” Stallard said. “It was often very exciting to grow up with him and my mom. She was a photographer, too.”

Killebrew shot countless events in the black community, Stallard said, at a time when other white photographers refused to carry their cameras across the railroad tracks.

He was a man who cared deeply about people, she said, and it shows in his work.

“We’re all fortunate to have had him in our city,” Fields said. “I’m deeply saddened by the loss.”

The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wheeler & Woodlief Funeral Home. Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the funeral home.

Obituary for Charles Sidney Killebrew Jr.

Charles "Charlie" Sidney Killebrew Jr., 87, passed away Friday, May 1, 2009. He was born August 29, 1921, in Edgecombe County, son of the late Charles Sidney Killebrew Senior and his wife, Lillie Mae McAllister Killebrew .

He was preceded in death by his father, Charles Sidney Killebrew Sr., mother, Lillie Mae, brother, William McAllister Killebrew, sister-in-law, Frances Killebrew Henderson, and former wife, nee Katherine Penn Bunn. Charlie is survived by a daughter, Penn Bunn Stallard; granddaughter, Cecily and husband, Todd Zagoroli; grandson, Orion Stallard and wife, Dr. Amy Harper-Stallard; grandchildren, Ellie, Peter, and Charlotte Zagoroli; and Aubrey and Adam Stallard; nieces Mary Holly Bigelow, Margaret Henderson and Fran Henderson; three grand-nieces; and two grand-nephews.

Charlie graduated in 1938 from Tarboro High School and went on to enlist in the Army Air Corps. After completing his military service, Charlie went to work in 1946 as a photographer for the Evening & Sunday Telegram. He opened Killebrew Photography Studio in 1952 and later established and operated Carolina Aerial Mapping in the building next door to his Howard Street studio. He was one of the first aerial mapping photographers in North Carolina and operated generally out of the Rocky Mount airport.

He was a regular at the Airport Luncheonette. During his many decades working at the Telegram, his photography studio, and aerial mapping business, Charlie documented life in the region through the lens of his cameras – creating a photographic record of more than half a million images of the area's people, events, ceremonies, wildlife and landscape over the course of more than half a century.

Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 8, 2009, at Wheeler & Woodlief Funeral Home. The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 9, 2009, at the funeral home, with burial to follow at Greenwood Cemetery in Tarboro. A short gathering to celebrate his life will be held at 5:30 pm. Saturday, May 9, 2009, at Stonewall Manor in Rocky Mount.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the N.C. Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund, 1722 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1722. To make contributions online, please go to www.ncwildlife.org

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