Oct. 19, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Lost a good friend a few days ago who was also my first boss on a full-time job at the original Journal-News, a daily in Rockland County, N.Y. As with other kind souls who knew better to use sugar than spice, Al Witt was well-placed by the gods.
And not just for me. Aloysius J. Witt was an obvious motivator because he was enthusiastic about life, full of energy, the light in the room, the charmer who was actually genuine and the salesman for just about anything who looked you straight in the eye. This was no three-card-monty man.
Life sometimes places the right people in your flight path, and you then can take off, even soar, and make a safe landing when you have to. As a boss to photographers at the Journal, Al was forgiving of mistakes — just re-tie your laces and get on your feet again. He was also an excellent instructor because he gave you room to learn without over-managing. You grew because he fertilized the soil so well with concern and kindness, not the nit-picking that wilts you.
Personally, he took a chance on a young copy boy who was eager but unrehearsed. He saw a spark, lit the pilot light and, thanks to the gods, the fireplace was engaged for one soul. The job that was fortunately mine served both worker and master, but Al opened the door.
Al was a photographer and at times chief at the newspaper for some 27 years and was quite good at his craft, particularly in sports. He was elected last year to the Rockland County Sports Hall of fame, the only lensman so named. After retirement, he was a volunteer with the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast program at United Church in Spring Valley, N.Y., for about 20 years. Giving back was a way of living his very deep Catholic faith. Al was an usher in two parishes.
During World War II, Al, a draftee and, so, “citizen soldier” like most back then, was a tank transport driver who was caught in the hell of the Ardennes Offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. Al never talked about that time except to say he served like others. His modesty was typical but also buddy-like, for the average citizen soldier wanted to do the job and then come home to live an ordinary life. For Al, war was for its time only.
Al’s father was an exacting fellow, a machinist who, the son said demanded precision. But Al saw too many shades of gray, not black and white, and he did not follow his father’s trade.
Instead, he was at various times, a Macy’s Herald Square 34th St. camera salesman, a “tin man” (aluminum salesman), a milk truck driver, a metal stamp company worker and held other jobs. His longest was as a photog, and Al’s ability to make people laugh, to genuinely enjoy people, put his subjects at ease. His fellow lensmen learned technique from Al but, more important, how to relate to the public.
All that would not have been possible if Al did not see the gray shading in life. His allowance for individualism, for the sounds of different drummers, for the varieties in people raised personal acceptance to an awesome level. He was a blessed fellow.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.