My friend and photojournalism mentor, Duane Dailey, has written his final column, ending a Missouri journalism career spanning more than 55 years.
His death March 10 came rather suddenly, apparently, as only a few people in his circle of journalism friends knew the extent and seriousness of his cancer illness.
My realization came in a brief email, sent Sunday, saying he would not have his column this week since he was being hospitalized. A week earlier he had apologized for being a bit late due to the effects of chemo and radiation treatments he was receiving for what he said his doctor called “butt cancer.”
No mention in the email, however, of how serious his illness actually was.
I saw his final email Monday morning. Replied back wishing him well. I did not receive any response.
And by then, the chance to say goodbye (or even best of luck) was gone. He was admitted into intensive care the prior weekend and had died by Tuesday — the day of Missouri’s Presidential Preference Primary. He would also not live to see this past week’s announcements of postponements or outright cancellations of collegiate and profession sporting events and entire seasons, suspensions of professional leagues, or drastic alterations to high school athletic and music, speech and drama competitions across the state, region and nation.
Not to mention the closings of small, medium and large college campuses including his beloved Missouri U to everything but online courses through the end of the semester.
The “Old Professor” would certainly have been able to put the impact of a worldwide reaction to the coronavirus into perspective in his weekly column “The Hometown Boy” — which our readers have been seeing since the day he called several years ago saying, “The franchise is yours.”
His column has appeared in weekly newspapers across Missouri for years but he always preferred they be spread out so as to not overlap a particular newspaper’s readership with a competitor’s readership. Another paper in the county had stopped running his work.
“The franchise” was ours.
I’m certain he would have been the one to put the virus into a rural community perspective. How would farmers protect themselves and their families from his virus which would reach pandemic status? What impact would the livestock market feel from this worldwide medical issue?
He was so adept at translating what he called “science speak” into “farmer talk.” Pretty much like his aforementioned interpretation of his medical diagnosis, I guess, looking back on his writing over the years.
It was in the basement of Whitten Hall, however, where MU college students fortunate enough to work in his darkroom would experience the magic that was Duane Dailey’s ag photojournalism at its best. As good a writer as Duane was, his photography was beautiful to behold, especially his “Missouri Mules” work.
My friend, Chris Wilkins, a Texan, literally gave me his position in Duane’s darkroom when a shooting opportunity came his way. I would have the chance to share in the experience of learning from printing the images created by such a technically expert agricultural photojournalist.
“Working in the Whitten basement wasn’t just a job, it was a hell of an education,” Wilkins shared with me this past week. “Like you say, we’ve talked about many times it before, but I had no idea when I took that part-time gig that it would introduce me to one of the main mentors in my life. Seeing how Duane approached a shoot changed the way I looked at everything through a camera. The careful composition, storytelling and technical expertise. Most of all, his kindness and friendship lasted a lifetime.”
Weekly and daily newspapers across Missouri for years ran Duane’s stories about rural life and farming trends. Several appeared in our agriculture supplement published this past week. Thirty-five years ago when he was actively shooting, readers viewed Duane’s images that college kids like Chris and myself printed up. MU Extension staff mailed out the images we printed with Duane’s copy every week.
Duane was a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. In 2018, I was honored to be inducted into the same organization. Duane was my presenter. I will always treasure his kind words. Even better, however, was watching Duane and my father, raised an Iowa farm boy, talking farmer talk. Cheers, my friend.