Bill Snead, a Lawrence resident who had a long and distinguished career as a photojournalist and news editor, died here at his home on Feb. 14 after struggling several months with advanced lung cancer. He died with loved ones at his side and with his sense of humor and curiosity intact.
Soon after doctors told him he had little time left to live, he told a friend that he considered himself to have lived the life of “a lucky man” with “fewer regrets than I probably should have.”
He was born October 27, 1937 in Topeka, the son of Elizabeth Blatt Snead Miller and Charles Walter Snead. He began his lifelong love affair with photojournalism in the mid 1950s while still a student at Lawrence High School, mixing darkroom chemicals for the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper under the supervision of Rich Clarkson. He graduated from Lawrence High in 1955. After succeeding Clarkson as staff photographer for the Journal-World, he then went to work for him again in 1957 as deputy chief photographer at the Topeka Capital-Journal. Snead subsequently worked as a photographer and editor at some of the nation’s most prestigious publications including National Geographic (1969-1972), and the Washington Post as an assistant managing editor under Ben Bradlee when the paper broke the story of the Watergate Scandal. He worked there from 1972 until 1993, as a photographer and overseeing the Post’s photo and graphics department.
Earlier in his career, he photographed the war in Vietnam for the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal where he had worked as director of the photo department and then as Saigon photo bureau chief for United Press International. He also subsequently worked for UPI in Chicago.
In 1993, he returned to Lawrence while on sabbatical from the Post to teach at the University of Kansas in a course that Dolph Simons, Jr., publisher of the Journal-World helped facilitate. Simons then urged Snead to come to work at the newspaper. Snead retired from the Post in August that year and moved to Lawrence with his wife Dona to coach the Journal-World’s photographers and also assumed management of the newsroom. He worked as executive editor at the newspaper where he had first started his career, leaving the Journal-World in 2007 as senior editor.
That same year, he returned to the Washington Post where he worked until 2009 helping the company launch an online publication devoted to hyperlocal news coverage of Loudon County, Va., a prosperous D.C. suburb. It was the Post’s first major foray into online journalism. He maintained his home in Lawrence and after completing the Post assignment resumed teaching the craft of digital journalism at KU. There the mentoring skills polished during his long newsroom career gained the appreciation of a new generation of photographers and graphic artists.
Snead continued to take pictures even as he held management positions and stayed abreast of the rapidly changing technology. His career spanned the transition from large format film negatives to digital and he mastered it all, including videography. The list of memorable events and notable people he photographed over the years is long and included basketball great Wilt Chamberlain and other famed athletes, several U.S. presidents, movie stars and the Beatles. But the picture he called his favorite was a haunting image of a tearful and nameless young girl peering through the fogged glass of a bus in Tirana, Albania. He was among the first Westerners in that most isolated of Iron Curtain countries after it freed itself from decades of isolation imposed by a Communist regime.
His photographs of Kurdish refugees following the first Gulf War put him in close contention for a Pulitzer Prize and some have credited his work in the camps with sparking the no-fly-zone ordered by President George H.W. Bush to protect the refugees. He was named still photographer of the year by the White House News Photographers Association for a portfolio of work documenting the plight of the Kurds, the opening of Albania and aspects of life in rural Kentucky.
Snead won dozens of professional awards in each decade of his career but wasn’t one to mention them. They sat undisplayed in boxes in his garage. He valued more his family and the many friendships he made over the years. He was a skilled and amusing storyteller and had a knack for putting people at ease. Beginning in the 1990s, he frequently wrote the stories published alongside his photographs. He admired hard work done well.
His sizable body of work is being donated to the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas, adding to its collection of images made by more than 30 nationally prominent photojournalists, several of whom were Snead’s colleagues and friends.
Snead survived recurring bouts of leukemia that spanned three decades before succumbing to lung cancer. Cancer victims, survivors, their families and those who treated them became recurring subjects in his work. He sometimes described his first remission as a miracle because it resulted from his fortuitous inclusion in an early clinical trial.
He is survived by his wife Dona Snead, of the home, his son Mark Snead and spouse Liz and their children, Sam and Emma, of Arlington, Va., and his daughter Sally Snead, also of Arlington, Va. He was preceded in death by his sister, Mary Snead Arredondo in 2009.
The Family wants to make public its thanks to Dr’s. Matt Stein and Sherri Soule and their staff at Lawrence Memorial Hospital Oncology Center, Dr. Darren Klish and his staff at The Lawrence Cancer Center and Douglas County Home Health and Hospice for all the care and support they provided during the past few months.
Services will be held on Friday February 26, 2016 at 11am at the First United Methodist Church 946 Vermont St. Lawrence KS 66044. The Family will greet guests immediately following the service.
The Family invites friends and out of town guests to join them for refreshments at Ingredient 947 Massachusetts Ave Lawrence KS at 4pm.
In lieu of flowers the Family suggests memorials to the KU Endowment Association, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, Kan., 66044 to fund a photojournalism scholarship in Bill Snead’s name or may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, Kan., 66044.
A celebration of Bill’s life work in pictures will be held at a later date.