HOUSTON (AP) — Edward F. Kolenovsky, who covered the development of the U.S. space program, prize fights and many other major events during a long career as an Associated Press photographer, died Tuesday. He was 87.
Terry Kolenovsky said her father-in-law died at the Houston-area home of her and her husband, Edward Kolenovsky Jr. She said he had Parkinson's disease and dementia and been hospitalized, but that he insisted in recent days that he wanted to die at home.
Kolenovsky joined the AP in 1948 as a darkroom staffer in the Dallas bureau and left in 1951 for a nearly two-year stint in the military during the Korean War. He returned to Dallas, working also as a photographer, and transferred to Austin in 1956 to establish the AP's photo operation there. In 1959 he moved to Houston to become the city's first full-time AP photographer. He retired in January 1992.
"He ramrodded the Houston area for AP Photos as if he were Gen. (George) Patton, did not suffer fools and punished the opposition unmercifully," said retired colleague Harry Cabluck, who also served a stint as the AP's photo editor in Texas.
Richard Carson, a Houston photographer who freelanced for the AP for years during Kolenovsky's tenure, described him as "a bear of a man — tough and gruff with a hard exterior that barely concealed his heart of gold."
He said he and many other freelancers — or stringers — learned the business in what many of them referred to as the "Eddie Kolenovsky School of Stringology."
"He had an uncanny ability with his advice when he sent you on assignment," Carson said. "He could tell you exactly what was going to happen and what the important photo would be."
Kolenovsky was a fixture at the Johnson Space Center, covering spaceflights for the AP from the Gemini program, where two astronauts flew together in a spacecraft for the first time, through the Apollo moon missions and then the space shuttle.
On the morning of the Challenger disaster in January 1986, Kolenovsky was stationed as usual in a trailer at the space center in Houston where he monitored and photographed images from a NASA live broadcast, and he moved a photo of icicles dangling from the launch vehicle in the abnormally cold weather. The cold weather later would be blamed as a factor in the explosion that killed the astronauts.
Kolenovsky routinely was assigned to the major sports events of his era and followed Muhammad Ali around the world for heavyweight fights. He talked of standing knee-deep in water from tropical downpours while developing film and transmitting photos from the 1974 Ali-George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle and of climbing on the roof of a presidential box to get photos for the 1975 Ali-Joe Frazier Thrilla in Manila.
In 1961, he photographed the devastation caused by Hurricane Carla, which was one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Texas, by persuading a crop duster pilot to fly him around when no other aircraft were available.
Kolenovsky also covered earthquakes in Mexico and Central America and was among the few present when Howard Hughes was buried in a Houston cemetery in 1976. Three years later, he was among three AP photographers working out of a closet in Havana, hand dipping film outside a Fidel Castro-organized meeting of leaders of about 100 non-aligned nations.
Services for Kolenovsky are set for Thursday at Canon Funeral Home in Waller, Texas.