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Remembering Ruby Washington Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

17 September 2018

Ruby Washington, 66, passed away earlier this week from breast cancer. She was the first African-American woman to become a staff photographer at The New York Times.

She had risen through the ranks from lab technician to freelancer for the paper before being promoted to staff photographer. As a staffer, she captured an award-winning shot of Secretary of State Colin Powell opening a congratulatory note from British foreign secretary Jack Straw at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Feb. 14, 2003.

Powell had just argued the administration's case for military intervention in Iraq, even though the United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix had cautioned against moving too quickly.

In Ready and Waiting for the Moment to Unfold, she wrote about that moment:

When he finished, I watched as someone passed him a note. I waited in anticipation, hoping that he would open it so I could photograph its contents. It unfolded right before me: A rare opportunity had presented itself.

She discussed any invasion of privacy issues with her picture editor Karen Cetinkaya before they decided to publish the image. Across four columns.

In Ruby Washington: A Quiet Trailblazer in Photojournalism, David Gonzalez paints a portrait of Washington as a person who "knew how to keep her cool even in tense situations."

She was the middle of 12 children of a Patterson, Ga., farmer who grew tobacco, cotton and vegetables. She started taking photos as a child, taking pictures of her grade school classmates.

She attended community college in South Florida before moving to Brooklyn to continue her college education. She landed a job at The Times in the mid-1970s in the back copy department before moving to the lab.

She had a deep love of the arts that led her to photograph dance and theatrical productions. And which, in turn, informed her photography.

She was a quiet trailblazer, Gonzalez remembers in his eloquent tribute to her, but "silence can say many things," he adds.

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