I lost a great friend and fellow photographer yesterday.

I met Chuck Liddy in 1979. I was already at The News Herald in Morganton, NC, working as a staff photographer, 20 years old and full of myself. I thought I was a good photographer, fresh out of Randolph Technical Institute with a degree in photojournalism.

Mark D Phillips and Chuck Liddy
Mark D Phillips and Chuck Liddy outside the Burke County courthouse in Morganton, NC.

Chuck came in like a whirling dervish and upset my world. We had many talks about photography and what we were trying to capture at The News Herald. We had teammates like Bill Poteat, Ted Hall, Allen VanNoppen, Ben Estes, Marjo Rankin, Edna Mae Herman, just to name a few.

These were magical times, when local newspapers were a goldmine of information. Chuck and I respected each other and we knew we had a special place. When AP made us a transmission location for western North Carolina, our photography suddenly had a whole new audience. We vied for assignments that we knew would generate AP Laserphotos and the possibility of publication in one of the major daily newspapers.

In Boone, we both developed as sports photographers on the campus of Appalachian State University, which we covered for the AP. We competed against each other in the monthly NPPA photo contest and it’s amazing how many awards we won.

Chuck had a great eye. He taught me that every image needs to tell a story, but a page of photos expanding on the subject was always better. Ted Hall gave us full pages in The News Herald to design with our photographs and we both took advantage. That’s where I learned to take on long-term projects. We were always working, always looking for different stories.

I left Morganton in 1983, moving to Augusta Georgia’s Chronicle and then to the Tribune in Tampa, FL, before taking up residence in New York City. Chuck and I lost touch until 1991 when we crossed paths at the Meadowlands during the NCAA Eastern Regionals. I was working for the Associated Press, Chuck was working for the Durham Herald Sun. It was not the best of meetings. We really still had the competition thing going on between us.

We began following each other on Facebook and occasionally commented on each other’s posts. I kept up with his career and the big moments in his life.

Last summer, I returned to Morganton for a week’s stay. I took a chance and called Chuck. Without a beat, he said he was in Blowing Rock and “let’s get together for lunch.” We met in the old Mimosa Theater downtown, which was the place I saw Star Wars 19 times. Now it was an Asian restaurant and the perfect place for two people to reminisce about their early life in a small town. But that’s not what we talked about. We talked about family and accomplishments outside of photography.

We walked around downtown and then we reminisced — each remembering stories about the old Burke County courthouse and how the high school football matchup between Freedom High School and East Burke elicited a “special edition” Saturday paper.

We both realized that we had some great moments shared together at an early age that helped form my later career. Morganton was a tight-knit community and we were considered an integral part of the city’s structure. Our job was to document life as we perceived it on film. It was our training ground and it was our springboard. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Chuck Liddy.

Raleigh News & Observer tribute to Chuck Liddy
Raleigh News & Observer tribute to Chuck Liddy