Resident's photographs tell presidential stories
See the article of February 21. 2005 12:00AM in the Times-News

Leigh Kelley
Times-News Staff Writer

Presidents Day has more meaning for a person if he has spent nearly two decades of his life working for five U.S. presidents.

Just ask Hendersonville resident Jack Kightlinger.


"I've traveled to 80 countries, met all kinds of different people and been involved on a daily basis with every president, from L.B.J. (Lyndon Johnson) to (Ronald) Reagan," Kightlinger said of his days working as a White House photographer. "I think about what these guys go through. I've been in those situations in the Oval Office where those tough decisions have to be made and that's when you see what the guy is made of."

Kightlinger, 72, looks comfortable in a red cotton shirt and blue jeans as he leans back in an easy chair at the home he shares with his wife, Adele. The photo albums and scrapbooks scattered across the living room floor could be special remembrances much like any other, except not everyone has their own photo of former first lady Pat Nixon celebrating her birthday on board Air Force Two or of a distraught former President Johnson alone in a room, crying while listening to an audio taped account of losing men in battle during Vietnam.

The unexpected opportunity of a lifetime came while Kightlinger was in the Army Signal Corps. He was 36 years old and supervising 200 photographers while running a military photography lab in California when he received a telegram in 1967 directing him to go to Washington for a "possible assignment," he said.

The assignment turned out to be an all-service competition for a spot on the White House photography staff, Kightlinger said. Photographers from each branch of the military competed for the job. Seven days of "grueling" interviews and two polygraph tests later, the job was his.

If every photograph tells a story, Kightlinger's work is the equivalent of the great American novel. Images captured through his lens reveal everything that is life in the White House, from the official handshakes between presidents and foreign dignitaries at state dinners to candid, intimate moments of the presidents and their family members.

Sometimes his camera took aim at the unusual or exotic sights he saw during official state visits to faraway locales, such as Africa or Japan. A photo he took of a young boy handling several pythons wrapped around his body during a state trip Pat Nixon made to Africa in 1971 especially delighted the former first lady, Kightlinger said.

"She was quiet, but very kind," he said. "She always asked for me to go on state trips with her and we would play cards on the plane."

And other times his work simply told the tale of a person's emotional reaction to events such as a photo he took of former Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller gleefully giving a not so polite one finger greeting to a group of hecklers during a political outing.

"The state dinners and trips, that was just stuff you had to do, but when you're documenting history, you had to get behind the scenes," he said. "The intimate pictures are the best because you are in the background and it's quiet, unobtrusive."

Kightlinger is quick to credit Adele, 73, with running the household during his frequent absences and raising the couple's three children while he served as a White House photographer. His work required so much travel, she said, the family kept track of him through television news reports.

"We would watch the news and they would say the president's plane has landed and I would turn to the kids and say, OK, let's get ready, dad's on his way home," she said, laughing. "It was not unusual for him to be gone 20 days out of the month and sometimes he was even gone during the holidays."

He remembers all the presidents he photographed with fondness, but none more so than the late Ronald Reagan. Reagan's warmth and sincerity resonated with people regardless of their station in life, Kightlinger said.

"He never forgot the little guy -- if he saw a cop on the street or the janitor in the hallway, he would stop and speak to them," Kightlinger said. "We would be behind schedule, on our way somewhere and he would just stop all of a sudden and tell a joke, that's how relaxed he was. He was a great guy and he was comfortable in front of a camera, just a terrific subject. That's probably why I liked him so much."

Kightlinger is especially proud of a Reagan photo that has become the new Reagan stamp, released by the U.S. Post Office Feb. 9. Former first lady Nancy Reagan and the presidential archives staff approved the image for the stamp, a portrait of Reagan painted by award-winning artist Michael J. Deas, based on a photograph taken by Kightlinger in 1981.

The photo opportunity came during a bill signing ceremony that took place one day while Reagan was at his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., Kightlinger said.

"The light looked so good, I just took out my telephoto lens and started taking some nice head shots," he said. "He had such a gleam in his eye, it just sparkled. It was just a great shot."

The bulk of Kightlinger's work is housed in the presidential archives in Washington and has been published in national publications, including Newsweek and Time magazines. He sold his camera equipment long ago, officially retiring from the professional photography game, but occasionally a White House photograph of his will pop up in a publication or on a television program, which still delights him, Adele said.

The key to his successful run as a White House photographer? Kightlinger said he attributes it to being gentle and diplomatic in stressful situations, working with sometimes difficult subjects.

"Being diplomatic and knowing how to talk to people, that was important," he said, smiling. "Anyone can do my job as a photographer, but your diplomatic skills tell the tale of whether or not you get the picture. Every good photographer knows that."

Contact Kelley at 694-7871 or e-mail her at


Some of Jack Kightlinger's  photographs as seen in Presidential Libraries


  The president gets his eye in at the bowling alley in the old executive office building at the White House during his first year in office. His fellow bowler is Joseph L. Taylor Sr, handler of presidential mail. He once kept score for Nixon for 20 matches in a row. Frank Blair, a newsreader on the TV show Today, watches (photograph by Jack Kightlinger, Oct 8, 1969).  
    President Lyndon B. Johnson listens to tape sent by Captain Charles Robb from Vietnam, 07/31/1968,
LBJ Library photo by Jack Kightlinger


Link to:

The Lessons of Vietnam and Vietnam Timeline


  President Reagan, Mrs. Reagan and daughter-in-law Doria Reagan celebrate his re-election to a second term as President on the stage of the Los Angeles Ballroom • November 6, 1984

Photograph by
Jack Kightlinger,
Courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library


New Reagan Stamp Revealed

Here is a copy of the Reagan stamp released by the United States Post Office on February 9th 2005.

The stamp features a portrait of Reagan painted by award-winning artist Michael J. Deas and is based upon a photograph taken by White House photographer Jack Kightlinger in 1981.  


Reagan Stamp Personifies the Man

Jon E. Dougherty,
Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005
The nation's 40th president, Ronald Reagan, will once again have his uplifting image featured across the country - and in time immemorial- when the U.S. Postal Service launches a new stamp in his honor today.

Story Continues Below

A first-date-of-issue for the stamps, which bear a broadly smiling image of the late commander-in-chief, will take place during a dedication ceremony at his Simi Valley, Calif. presidential library and museum, postal officials said. Other dedications are also scheduled to take place at the state capitol building in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C.

The essence of Reagan, who was always known for his quick wit and self-depreciating sense of humor, is embodied in the stamp's image.

Unveiling the stamp's image at Reagan's presidential library Nov. 9, Postmaster General John E. Potter joined former first lady Nancy Reagan to praise the man widely credited with defeating global communism and paving the road to end the decades-long Cold War with the former Soviet Union.

"The United States Postal Service is honoring the man who was known by his fellow Americans as the great communicator," Potter said. "As a communicator, he understood the value of the written word—the handwritten word. Perhaps that's why he wrote—and mailed—more than 10,000 letters during his incredible lifetime."

     'Radiated Confidence'

For Nancy Reagan, the stamp embodies the "honor of a lifetime" she said her husband felt "to serve as president." She said, "He would be very touched by the special tribute. The stamp really captures Ronnie's humor and optimism, and I hope the American people will like it as much as I do."

Of Reagan's smiling image, Potter says it "radiated confidence" while signaling that "he believed in himself and in us, his fellow countrymen."

"Through that confidence and shared belief, we knew that we could achieve great things," Potter said.

Besides the stamp, the USPS will also release commemorative lapel pins, key chains, pens and other Reagan memorabilia, the Shaw News Service reported.

Though critics abound, Reagan has been widely hailed as one of the greatest American presidents ever, and certainly one of the most acclaimed of the last century. So it would seem almost a given that the USPS would honor him with a stamp.

Only, it's not up to the Postal Service, interestingly enough.

Melissa Dodge, a spokeswoman for the agency, told a semi-independent panel decides which images or personalities appear on stamps.

"Stamps in general are determined by the … Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC)," she said. "The Postal Service doesn't decide." The committee reflects "a wide range of educational, artistic, historical and professional expertise," she said, adding the USPS does have some role in the selection process, but not a primary one.

"The selection of subjects for U.S. postage stamps and stationery is a difficult task, since only a limited number of new commemorative items can be issued annually," said Dodge. "The public suggests almost all subjects chosen to appear on U.S. postage stamps and stationery. The independent committee selects about 25 new subjects a year for recommendation to the Postmaster General."

Regarding Reagan, Dodge said there were criteria for presidents and others who appear on stamps. "They are eligible [only] after their death and after their birthday," she said, noting Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911. He died from complications due to Alzheimer's disease June 5, 2004, at 93.

Normally, says USPS tradition, the agency doesn't honor prominent Americans sooner than 10 years after their death. An exception is made for presidents, however, "who may be honored with a postage stamp as soon as the first anniversary following death." Reagan served in the White House from 1981 to 1989.

Equally impressive is that, even in death, Reagan's acclaim shows no signs of abating.

Dodge said the USPS expected heavier-than-normal sales for the late president's stamp, so the print run will be larger than usual. "We have consultants who help us determine the number" of stamps to print, she said.


Ronald Reagan Stamp - Technical Details
The Postal Service will issue a 37-cent, Ronald Reagan commemorative 
stamp in one design in a pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) pane 
of 20 stamps (Item 457800), on February 9, 2005, in Simi Valley, 
California. The stamp, designed by Howard E. Paine of Delaplane, 
Virginia, goes on sale nationwide February 9, 2005.

The stamp honors former president Ronald Reagan, who died on 
June 5, 2004. Reagan’s patriotism, charisma, and optimistic 
confidence rallied the nation and made him one of the most popular 
Presidents of the 20th century.

The stamp art is a portrait of Reagan painted by award-winning 
artist Michael J. Deas, whose many projects for the Postal Service 
include several stamps in the Legends of Hollywood series and 
the Literary Arts series. The portrait is based on a 1981 photograph 
of Reagan made by White House photographer Jack Kightlinger.

Issue:			Ronald Reagan
Item Number:		457800
Denomination & Type:	37-cent Commemorative
Format:			Pane of 20 (1 design)
Series:			N/A
Issue Date & City:	February 9, 2005, Simi Valley, CA  93065
Designer:		Howard E. Paine, Delaplane, VA
Artist:			Michael J. Deas, Brooklyn Heights, NY
Art Director:		Howard E. Paine, Delaplane, VA
Engraver:		Southern Graphics Systems
Modeler:		Donald Woo
Manufacturing Process:	Gravure
Printer:		Sennett Security Products (SSP)
Printed at:		American Packaging Corporation, Columbus, WI
Press Type:		Champlain
Stamps per Pane:	20
Print Quantity:		170 million stamps
Paper Type:		Prephosphored tagged
Adhesive Type:		Pressure-sensitive 
Processed at:		Unique Binders, Fredericksburg, VA
Colors:			Magenta, Yellow, Cyan, Black
Stamp Orientation:	Vertical 
Image Area (w x h):	0.84 x 1.41 in./21.336 x 35.814 mm 
Overall Size (w x h):	0.99 x 1.56 in./25.146 x 39.624 mm
Pane Size (w x h):	5.94 x 7.25 in./150.87 x 184.15 mm
Plate Size:		360 stamps per revolution
Plate Numbers:		“S” followed by four (4) single digits
Marginal Markings:	Ó 2004 USPS · Plate numbers in four corners 





Remembering the Man

Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994. In a farewell letter to the nation, he was still optimistic. He wrote: "I am now starting the journey that will take me into the sunset of my life, but I know for America there will always be a brighter day ahead... I only wish I could spare my dear Nancy the pain of this terrible ordeal but sadly I cannot... thank you for letting me serve as your President... good luck my friends may God always bless you."

But long before the disease took his life, the former and late president had a brush with death early in his presidential career. He was shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr., a deranged man who told authorities he wanted to assassinate Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, on March 30, 1981, in Washington, D.C.

In a hail of six bullets fired by Hinckley, Reagan was hit under the left arm and seriously wounded. But because the special exploding bullet malfunctioned, he was not killed, ballistic experts said.

Also wounded were Washington, D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and Reagan Press Secretary James Brady, the latter in the head and seriously enough to confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

The next year Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, but has largely been confined to a mental hospital in D.C. since (he has been allowed some supervised and unsupervised visits out of the hospital).

Following the first-date-of-issue ceremony at the Reagan presidential library, the stamp will also be dedicated on the steps of the California state capitol building in Sacramento, say officials of, a group dedicated to preserving intact the memory and accomplishments of the former actor and California governor.

There will also be a ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring—among other guests—singer/entertainers Lee Greenwood and Crystal Gayle. They will join Potter, former Reagan administration officials, and members of Congress to dedicate the stamp at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

"What a tremendous tribute to former President Ronald Reagan," Greenwood said. "I am humbled by his contribution to this country and consider it an honor not only to be invited to the First Day of Issue Ceremony, but to perform once again as I have many times before during his presidency."

Gayle added, "President Reagan was a gentleman, a scholar and a noble leader who left a distinguished and everlasting impression in our American history. He is deserving of this recognition and so much more."

In his hometown of Tampico, Ill., some residents said they were also eagerly awaiting the stamp's release, the Morris Daily Herald reported. Reagan grew up in nearby Dixon, then attended college in Eureka, where he graduated in 1932.

After college Reagan's first taste of success and notoriety came via acting, where he starred in a number of movie and television roles. After films he turned to politics, eventually becoming the 33rd governor of California, from 1967 to 1975.

His movie credits include:

"Love Is on the Air" (1937) "Sergeant Murphy" (1938) "Swing Your Lady" (1938) "Hollywood Hotel" (1938) "Accidents Will Happen" (1938) "Cowboy From Brooklyn" (1938) "Boy Meets Girl" (1938) "Girls on Probation" (1938) "Brother Rat" (1938) "Going Places" (1938) "Secret Service of the Air" (1939) "Dark Victory" (1939) "Code of the Secret Service" (1939) "Naughty but Nice" (1939) "Hell's Kitchen" (1939) "Angels Wash Their Faces" (1939) "Smashing the Money Ring" (1939) "Brother Rat and a Baby" (1940) "An Angel From Texas" (1940) "Murder in the Air" (1940) "Knute Rockne - All American" (1940) "Tugboat Annie Sails Again" (1940) "Santa Fe Trail" (1940) "The Bad Man" (1941) "Million Dollar Baby" (1941) "Nine Lives Are Not Enough" (1941) "International Squadron" (1941) "Kings Row" (1942) "Juke Girl" (1942) "Desperate Journey" (1942) "This Is the Army" (1943) "Stallion Road" (1947) "That Hagen Girl" (1947) "The Voice of the Turtle" (1947) "John Loves Mary" (1949) "Night Unto Night" (1949) "The Girl From Jones Beach" (1949) "It's a Great Feeling" (cameo) (1949) "The Hasty Heart" (1949) "Louisa" (1950) "Storm Warning" (1951) "Bedtime for Bonzo" (1951) "The Last Outpost" (1951) "Hong Kong" (1952) "The Winning Team" (1952) "She's Working Her Way Through College" (1952) "Tropic Zone" (1953) "Law and Order" (1953) "Prisoner of War" (1954) "Cattle Queen of Montana" (1954) "Tennessee's Partner" (1955) "Hellcats of the Navy" (1957) "The Killers" (1964)



    This is a Coral-Lee postcard showing Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan during their first visit. The card is a Mike Roberts Productions based on a Jack Kightlinger colour photo. The meeting occurred February 26, 1981.





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