PHYLosophy: Taking Stock of a Great Man

I usually heard his friendly, booming voice before I saw him. He’d stop by the front two desks in the newsroom at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, first to visit with Linda Comins and Betsy Bethel-McFarland.

In a few minutes, he’d barrel around the corner into my office and, in just two giant strides, make his way around my computer to give me a big hug and a kiss. And usually some shortbread — delicious, buttery shortbread — baked by his daughter Andrea. … Or a tin of pirouettes, those crème-filled wafer straws.

The French call these cookie straws pirouettes because they are rolled or twirled — much like a pirouette in dancing.

And if anyone danced his way through life, it was Jay Stock — Master Photographer.

In fact, he danced all the way to age 96 and then left us last Saturday, July 27.

Jay was sashaying his way around the globe into his 80s. I still remember the day he told me he was just getting too old to leave the country, to travel that far. He had just turned down a job in some exotic, far-off place — maybe it was Africa. I believe he was 88 at the time.

But until then and for decades, he traveled here and there and just about everywhere to photograph wondrous people, places and things: Day of the Dead in Mexico; Amish families (yes, they let him into their kitchens and into their lives); coal miners and steelworkers; African tribes; American Indians; Eskimos; tobacco growers and peanut farmers; Impressionist artists and ballet dancers.

Two of many books of Jay’s work.

One day, Jay spent hours at the Stifel Fine Arts Center dance studio taking gorgeous shots of my daughter Amanda and a few of her ballerina friends. The photos had the look, the feel, the spirit of Impressionist paintings.

Jay’s dancers at Stifel Fine Arts Center’s dance studio.

He photographed Amanda’s pre-bridal photos — long after he gave up wedding photography. We descended into his basement studio that hadn’t been used in years. We covered the floor with sheets so as not to dirty her floor-length wedding gown and uncovered his L.F. Deardorff & Sons camera. He took photo after photo after photo, putting a new 4X5 negative into that old-school, large-format contraption for each and every picture.

Jay meticulously made sure every shot was a perfect shot.

He photographed artists at Heritage Music BluesFest, always delivering a stack of masterpieces after the festival. In fact, a photo essay titled “Masters of the Blues” was on display in 2008 at Ohio University Eastern of his work.

One of my husband Bruce’s favorite BluesFest stories (Bruce produces the festival) has to do with a “roll” of film.

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One hot August day, another photographer (Dr. Dennis Niess) was standing in front of the stage on the opposite side, when he motioned to Jay that he’d be right back — he had to get a new disk for his digital camera. Jay reached into one of the many pockets of his photographer’s vest, grabbed a canister of 35mm film and rolled it across the pavement, laughing all the way … it was their ongoing joke about film vs. digital. Jay’s sense of humor was as grand as his photography skills.

At the festival, Jay always made it a point to grab my family for a picture in front of the BluesFest banner at the front gate — usually in the midst of crazy-busy times when corralling all of us in one spot was close to impossible. But who could say “no” to Jay. However, when we saw the photo later, it certainly made us all smile — even if we weren’t smiling in the picture.

Jay’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including two exhibitions just this year — Jay Stock: Retrospective at the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, and the first exhibition dedicated to portrait photography, at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, Saint Joseph, Missouri. He’s also been honored by Kodak and scores of others.

But, probably most important to him was his induction into the Martins Ferry Wall of Honor in 2011 and his “Just People” exhibit at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center in 2016.

At the Oglebay Institute exhibit: left, Jay with daughters Andrea Cowan, Georgette Stock and Lorlean Fialkowski; right, Jay and me.

Bruce and I were lucky to have visited with Jay, daughters Georgette and Andrea, and very close friend Gail Nogle just three weeks ago at Good Shepherd Nursing Home. We took him a BluesFest shirt and sat and chatted. Jay was quiet, but every now and then, he’d look at us and give a smile as big as his heart, as broad as his body of work. Oh, that smile. It warms me just to think of it.

After our visit, Georgette told us to pop in again. She said we were “in the Rolodex of his mind … and our card would come up on a good day.” We didn’t get a chance for any more good days, but I know in my heart that Jay certainly had plenty of them in his life. And those days when I was with him were certainly good days in mine.

I think I’ll go get myself a tin of pirouettes.

One happy day for Amanda and me, thanks to Jay.

• After nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal has joined Weelunk as managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.