By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)

I was trying to get back to sleep. It had been a busy few weeks and as has been the case in my senior years, when I awaken in the middle of the early morning hours, it's a bitch to shut down the thought processes and drift off again.

Newsday, the newspaper for which I worked for forty-two years until my retirement six years ago, was in the news, once again. This time it wasn't for winning another Pulitzer Prize. It was because we were being sold. Again. When I started in 1960, we were owned by our publisher, Alicia Patterson. Soon after her death, we were bought by Times Mirror who also owned the LA Times. After many years they sold us to Tribune, who also owned the Chicago Tribune. Recently, Tribune was sold to millionaire Sam Zell, who is now selling off Newsday to either Rupert Murdoch, who owns the NY Post and the Wall Street Journal, in addition to many other assets, or to Mort Zuckerman, who owns the NY Daily News among other assets, or to Charles Dolan who owns Cablevision, among other assets. Two days ago, as I write this, Newsday and other media outlets around the world were saying that Murdoch would be the new owner by the end of this week. Today, the headlines read that Dolan and Cablevision now owned Newsday. He had the money in hand, and would take possession shortly.

None of this really affects me since my pension is secure and I am delighted to have gotten out of the fray while I still had some pride and dignity in what had been a marvelous career.

But, what was occupying my mind and keeping me from sleep were thoughts of what a great career I had enjoyed and of the many fantastic people I had come to meet. It occurred to me that there were a number of occasions where I had actually been in the presence of greatness. Sometimes I realized it when it happened. Other times it dawned on me on nights like this, when I couldn't sleep.

I was thinking about the time around the mid '70's when I was to accompany a young reporter (whose name I cannot recall) to his parents home here on Long Island. He was doing a story on his grandparents who were visiting from out of town. It happens that his grandparents were non other than Will and Ariel Durant. The names were vaguely familiar to me. They were renowned philosophers who had written an epic 11 volume body of work called "The History of Civilization." It won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1967. I, of course, had never read any of it, so it really didn't make too much of an impression on my ignorant mind.

I was introduced to the Durants. He was in his 70's. His wife was in her early 60's. I found them to be bright, articulate and inquisitive. I asked them if they felt that I would be intrusive if I photographed them as they conducted their visit with their family. They answered that they would be honored to have me photograph them. And, they asked me about myself; my family; my photography. This was a radical departure from what I was used to. Normally, I tried to be a speck on the wall; trying to be unnoticed as I went about documenting the event. But, they kept drawing me into the conversation and I have to admit that I was flattered by their attention. I did manage to get some really nice candids of them as they sat in the garden on a lovely summer afternoon while chatting with their loved ones.

A week or so, after the story was published, I received a letter at my home. It was from Will and Ariel Durant, beautifully handwritten, telling me how much they appreciated my photos and how much they enjoyed my company. I was touched by the sincerity of their comments. I put the letter away for safekeeping. But, after many years and several moves , I have no idea where it might be today. It's a shame. I'm sure that a handwritten letter from two such famous people would have some monetary value. But, I would not sell it. I would have it framed and hanging over my desk because, it dawned on me that sleepless night, that I really had been in the presence of greatness.

Dick Kraus




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