Houstonian alumnus recalls ‘terrible loss’
Staff photographer Randall Beaty was first reporter on scene at Old Main fire
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 01:12
I attended Sam Houston State University from fall of 1979, and graduated May 1983 with a bachelor’s of arts in photography and a minor in journalism. I worked as a staff photographer for about one and-a-half years in 1981 and 1982 for the Houstonian and Alcalde. Also, my daughter graduated from SHSU in 2011.
Working as a staff photographer for the Houstonian and Alcalde was a great and memorable experience for me. I came to SHSU in the fall of 1979 to major in photography. I was interested in photojournalism, so I also minored in journalism. I remember Dr. Emmett Jackson (though not a PhD. at the time) talking about some of his experiences as a photojournalist during some of the turbulent race riots of the 60s and 70s.
One of the students I met, I believe in my first photography class, was Bambi Irby (now Kiser), who became editor of the Houstonian. I believe it was through Bambi that I somehow got the job as staff photographer.
When I first started at the Houstonian, the editorial offices were on the top floor of what I believe is now the Thomason building, but at the time I just called it the Graphic Arts building. It housed the Photography and Journalism departments. The Dan Rather Communications Building was not built yet, and the women’s gym stood where the DRB now stands. One wall of the Houstonian office was all windows and looked out over the Austin College building and Old Main.
Working for the Houstonian allowed me to photograph and meet some interesting people, and go behind the scenes of many campus events.
Of all the memorable experiences I had at SHSU working on staff at the Houstonian, nothing compares to "that" night in February of 1982. I liked to work in the darkroom late at night when it was quiet and no one was around. One evening, a friend and I were in the Houstonian darkroom working late into the night. I believe it was shortly after midnight when I stepped out of the darkroom to get something, and, when I turned and looked out the window, saw flames shooting out of Old Main.
I grabbed my cameras and ran out of the building to see what was going on. Like many others, I spent the rest of the night and much of the next day photographing and watching that beautiful building burn to the ground. Watching that building burn was like losing an old friend. It was a central focal point for the school and town, and losing it was a terrible loss for the school and Huntsville.
Students stood and watched it for hours, and for days after would gather to look at the shell that was left. This was a point in time that, I believe, all of the students that were there at the time will always remember.
I photographed Texas Governor Bill Clements when he came to Huntsville to dedicate a new Walker County Jail. I met and photographed several interesting people, such as singer Michael Martin Murphey, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Dean Torrence of the 50’s - 60’s rock duo Jan and Dean, just to name a few.
I remember how patient Michael Martin Murphey was with the campus reporters who interviewed him. I also remember how irritated Dean Torrence was with Love, because Love was late and seemed like an air-head.
I photographed many of the sporting events from the sidelines. These provided me with a very memorable college experience.
A couple of my more embarrassing moments were when the sports editor sent me to shoot a baseball game and I couldn’t find the baseball field. I had never been, and the field that I thought was the baseball field was a practice field that no one was at.
Another embarrassing moment was when I was shooting a basketball game and had been sitting underneath the basket on one end of the court. What I didn’t realize was that while I was sitting on the hard wooden floor, one leg had fallen completely asleep. When I tried to stand up, in front of several hundred people in the stadium, I could barely stand or walk because my leg was completely numb. It took several minutes to be able to walk off the court.
Though I don’t do much in the way of photography any more, my journalism training has been invaluable in my professional life. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some great students and do something that I really loved.