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Longtime photographer to retire today

September 30, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Fire, auto accident, natural disaster or just a group of people grinning into a camera anywhere around Waynesboro for the last 37 years and a short, happy-go-lucky guy in a red shirt, black pants and white belt and shoes was usually there taking the picture.

Sid Miller, 62, retires from his job today as photographer for The Record Herald newspaper in Waynesboro, a job he started in 1967 when he was 25 years old. He had just ended a four-year hitch as a Navy photographer.

Miller grew up in the western Pennsylvania coal fields, the fifth of seven children of a coal miner. An older brother, Arthur, had moved to Waynesboro and Miller, just out of high school, came up for a job. He worked as an orderly at Waynesboro Hospital, met his wife, Nancy Sue Baker, when she was a patient there, married her in 1963 and joined the Navy.

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Four years later, after his discharge, he joined the Record Herald as a staff photographer. His starting salary - 83 cents an hour.

It wasn't money that kept him there for all those years. Photojournalism was and still is his life. He got his first camera when he was a boy: He sold seeds door-to-door and was given a camera for his efforts.

From then on, he said, "I always carried a camera."

His work put him in contact with people from all walks of life, from U.S. presidents to murderers, plus a whole lot of firefighters, ambulance crews and cops.

Sue Hadden, managing editor at the newspaper and Miller's boss, said Wednesday that publisher Pat Patterson did some research and estimated that Miller took more than 65,000 photographs during his career at the paper. He probably photographed more than 200,000 people in those photos, she said.

"We worked together for 32 years," Hadden said. "The Record Herald will never find anyone to fill Sid Miller's white bucks."

She said Miller was at his best at fire and accident scenes. He usually arrived at the scenes before emergency crews, she said.

He got to know the firefighters and emergency services crews over the years by photographing many of their social events.

"He was the kind of guy who always wanted to get as close as he could at a fire or accident scene to get the best picture," said Ron Flegel, Waynesboro's fire chief. "His focus was always on people. He wanted to get right into the action. If it was 3 a.m., Sid was there with his camera.

"The guys all liked Sid so he usually got what he wanted most of the time. We're going to miss him," Flegel said.

Miller often would climb a ladder, ledge or roof to get the angle he wanted for his photo, said Michael Christopher, Washington Township manager.

Miller remembers the time in the early 1970s when he climbed a pole to get a shot at an auto accident. A woman in the car had gone through the windshield and ended up face down on the hood. He photographed rescuers as they tried to get the woman out of the car.

She survived the wreck, but Miller said that for the next two weeks his photo was the subject of dozens of letters to the editor decrying him for taking such a gory photo.

"I was really blasted in those letters. I was called a beast," he said. "The paper wouldn't run a photo like that today."

"Sid had a tremendous knack for framing his photograph and he always managed to get everybody in the picture at a ribbon-cutting," Christopher said.

Miller's one regret, he said, was that he was on vacation when one of Waynesboro's biggest stories broke - the crash of a two-engine plane into a home on South Potomac Street in August 1997. The crash killed two people in the house and the two occupants in the plane.

Miller's not ready to put away his camera. He has a police monitor in his car and one at home. He will continue to take pictures for the newspaper, but as a freelancer.

A member of the Mont Alto (Pa.) Fire Department, he said when the monitor goes off he'll be "ready to roll, camera in hand."

Miller, who lives in Mont Alto, was feted at a retirement party Saturday night attended by more than 60 relatives, friends and fans.

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