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Picturing the Past 113: Remembering Ernie Robertson

Posted Tuesday, June 7, 2011, at 3:21 PM

Photographer Ernie Robertson's creativity shows in this railroad-related photo from the 1950s.
Here's one of a large number of 1950s railroad photos made by Ernest Robertson Jr. and sent to me by a contributor a while back.

But this time the focus is on Robertson himself, a talented photographer and former Times-Gazette editor who died Friday.

Ernie Robertson, as many people knew him, joined the T-G in 1951 as a reporter. The Wartrace native quickly moved up to editor within just a few weeks - shortly after his 23rd birthday. It's almost unheard of for a 23-year-old with little experience to edit a daily newspaper, but looking at the old issues you can see a good job to begin with and steady, quick improvement.

For much of his time he wrote an almost-daily front-page column, "Ramblin' with Robertson," which was full of tidbits about people he talked to and places he'd been across Bedford County. I thought about reprinting one but they're way too long for a blog.

He left for the University of Tennessee in 1954 where he spent the rest of his career, eventually developing the Photographic Services department and shooting most of the sports video from the early 1960s to early 1990s.

I was fortunate to have met him several times. He occasionally dropped by the T-G to visit and always had good words and encouragement for our staff and for my work as well. That meant a lot coming from someone with his background.

And on a couple of occasions I noticed his car or truck outside the building. Both had front license plates promoting Wartrace -- he never forgot his hometown.

A memorial service is scheduled tonight and burial on Wednesday in Knoxville.

Life well lived, job well done.

1953 vs. 2011: While looking through spring 1953 newspapers I noticed Ernie seemed concerned about the weather in some of his columns. Fayetteville was hit hard by a tornado, a windstorm struck Shelbyville - just like this year - and "New England's worst tornado" struck Worcester, Mass. - just as Springfield, Mass. was hit early this year.

Weather experts might want to compare 1953 with this year's severe season. Both seem so similar.

Picturing the Past is featured each Tuesday in this blog. Reader contributions are welcome.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

I remember Ernie well. He was coming into the T-G about the time I was starting as a carrier boy. It seems to me that I remember him with a straight stemmed pipe much like the one Henry the Father carried in Dennis the Menace.

Speaking of the Fayetteville tornado in 1953 my Dad, my Mother, and me made the trip down there to see the devastation caused by the tornado. I had never seen that kind of damage before in my life. I picked up a piece of stained glass from one of the churches and kept it for a long time.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Jun 7, 2011, at 4:44 PM

Wouldn't it be great to see an exhibit of his wonderful photos? I'm trying to figure out where this locomotive picture was taken by looking at the background. Maybe the actual photo would give more clues. By the way, the Fayetteville tornado was in 1952, Feb. 29th I am pretty sure. I was in the middle of it as we had just moved to Fayetteville the year before. Almost everyone who tells me they remember the tornado also says that their family came to see the destruction. It was quite a devastating blow to the downtown.

-- Posted by JRL on Wed, Jun 8, 2011, at 12:57 AM

To clarify, JRL is right. The high school in Fayetteville burned in spring '53, according to our back copies, and that was another blow to an already reeling town.

-- Posted by David Melson on Wed, Jun 8, 2011, at 10:06 AM

Ernie Robertson was just fantastic, a great combination of ability and common sense. He helped me tremendously in becoming a newsman.

-- Posted by bomelson on Thu, Jun 9, 2011, at 5:08 PM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.