WASHINGTON (AP) — Toby Massey, a photographer and photo editor who directed coverage of presidents and political conventions as well as natural disasters, the space program and sporting events during a 38-year career with The Associated Press, died Thursday. He was 80.
Massey died at home in Columbia, South Carolina, where he had moved this year after experiencing heart trouble, said his daughter, Christine Massey McNeill, who lived with him.
Massey joined the AP bureau in Miami in 1966. He became the AP's photo editor in Atlanta in 1970 and transferred to Washington two years later. From 1977 to 1991 he was assistant bureau chief for photos for the Washington bureau and then was regional photo coordinator for the southeastern U.S. He retired in 2004.
As a photographer for the news service, Massey made pictures of boxer Muhammad Ali, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and President Richard Nixon, among many other notables. He also photographed historic events such as King's funeral in 1968 and Earth Day activities in 1970.
"An AP photographer must have ingenuity," Massey said during an oral history for the news service in 2007. When a photographer covering a hurricane was running out of fuel and couldn't find an open gas station, he rented a car and drove it to an area with power to transmit his photos — an example, Massey said, of "taking a bad situation and making it into a good situation."
News photographers often found that taking pictures was easier than getting them to newspapers and other news media. Massey had a knack for working out logistical challenges — technical and human — that stood in the way of developing film and delivering images under deadline. Sometimes that meant turning bathrooms into darkrooms and arranging for someone on a riverbank to catch a roll of film from a passing boat.
"Toby was one of the pioneers of moving pictures out of Third World countries," said photographer Ron Edmonds, who worked with Massey in the AP's Washington bureau. "He was a master of going in and making friends with people, getting transmission lines and working behind the scenes to get things set up."
When Nixon visited the Soviet Union in 1974, Massey led the AP's photo crew and dealt with the complex challenges of getting photos to AP members. In the Soviet city of Yalta, Massey alerted the New York photo department that a photograph of the president was ready to be transmitted across the Soviet Union via special landline to Frankfurt, Germany, then to a leased satellite and on to AP headquarters in New York City.
Massey oversaw planning for photo coverage during political conventions and presidential inaugurations and was deeply involved in the news service's transition to the digital age. On a typical day in 1989 the Washington photo operation transmitted as many as 40 photos. The days surrounding George H.W. Bush's inauguration produced more than 900 photos from nearly 400 rolls of film. By then photographers seldom made prints, having moved to an electronic darkroom.
"Other than being a first-class photo editor who edited film in Washington, and many primitive darkrooms around the world, Toby was instrumental in helping AP members move into the digital age with photos," said a longtime AP colleague, Robert Daugherty. "He traveled the country training member newspaper staffs on AP's new digital technology. Until the day he retired, he was receiving help calls from AP members he had befriended earlier."
Massey also sought to put the AP ahead of all others in photo coverage. "I thought that as part of the AP, especially my years in Washington, I was contributing to the making of history and I thought that was very important," he said for the oral history.
"Toby was a tireless worker who was extremely competitive," said Doug Mills, a friend and former AP photographer who works at The New York Times. "He loved the AP, loved to win and hated to lose."
Massey was born March 8, 1934, in Huntington, W.Va., and studied education and music at Marshall University with the intention of becoming a high school band director. He worked during college at the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch and left school to accept a job at the Miami News, where he worked until joining the AP.
He married Nancy Fountain in 1953; she died in 2005. Survivors include their six children: Christine, Rich, Bob, Howard, Dean and Bill. Funeral arrangements were pending, but burial was planned in Manassas, Virginia.
Director of AP Corporate Archives Valerie S. Komor contributed to this report.