Peter Liddell, prizewinning ex-Times photographer, dies
Peter Liddell, Seattle Times staff photographer from 1966 to 1992, died May 6 at his home in France. He was 84.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Longtime Seattle Times photographer Pete Liddell, who died last month at 84, could do a lot of things, but “hurry” was seldom among them.
“He was never too busy to stop and pet a dog, or talk to a little child, or to watch — and share — a sunset,” said stone sculptor Lorraine Ledbetter, his wife of 35 years.
Mr. Liddell, who worked at The Seattle Times from 1966 to 1992, died of a heart attack May 6 at his home in France, where he and Ledbetter had lived since 2003.
Mr. Liddell’s news photography earned numerous awards, including the annual Associated Press Cowles Cup for best news photograph in Washington and Oregon, which he received for a 1967 photo of black activist Stokely Carmichael speaking at Garfield High School.
But photojournalism showcased just one of his talents.
“He was a spirit from another word,” said Ledbetter, with whom Mr. Liddell collaborated on many projects. “He was a genius: his engineering, welding, electric ... combined with creativity.”
Seattle Times photographer Greg Gilbert said Mr. Liddell was a good man to have around. “He could fix anything around the photo department with his a toolbox full of wrenches and screwdrivers.”
Another Times photographer, Alan Berner, remembers Mr. Liddell cutting chicken wire for a home project on the photo department’s large paper cutter. “It must have been OK. We still have the paper cutter, and it still works,” Berner said.
Berner also remembers some of Mr. Liddell’s classic photographs, such as one of Gov. John Spellman lighting his pipe, with the smoke forming a small cloud.
Mr. Liddell’s warm manner is recalled by Times photographer Dean Rutz, who supervised Mr. Liddell in his last years at the newspaper.
“I remember on one occasion something had made Pete excitedly happy, and he rushed over to give me a hug, and how I just completely disappeared,” Rutz said. “Pete could get like that sometimes. He had a boyish quality that really complemented his already very gentle side.”
Peter C. Liddell was born near Los Angeles in South Gate, Calif., in 1929. He was in high school when he began attending classes at the school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where his family had moved. He entered the University of Houston in 1949 as a student of engineering and photo journalism.
From 1950 to 1952, he served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He then returned to college and began to study ornamental wrought-iron work with his father, Homer Liddell.
From 1953 to 1959 Mr. Liddell worked on the photographic staff of The Houston Post.
He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1959 to be an industrial photographer for Boeing, and later worked as a photographer for the Portland Daily Reporter and the University of Oregon before coming to The Seattle Times.
Mike Urban, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer photographer, said, “He was always a gentleman while at a news scene. He towered over almost everyone, so getting a good shot over our heads was not difficult for him. He was always complimentary and always had something good to say.”
Ledbetter and Mr. Liddell were introduced by former Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, who attended a Seattle Center art exhibition at which Mr. Liddell photographed “The Little Michelangelo,” an 18th-century marble sculpture. Ledbetter had been hired to do extensive restoration of the traveling piece.
After an early retirement, Mr. Liddell divided his time between free-lance photography, operating a small forge and collaborating on art projects with Ledbetter.
Following a long love affair with France, the couple became permanent residents in 2003 and had been remodeling a stone farmhouse that dates from the 1700s in the Perche area of Normandy.
Mr. Liddell also is survived by five children from his first marriage, sons Wade R. Liddell of Auburn, Kirk A. Liddell of Tacoma and Max R. Liddell of Seattle, and daughters Fern Liddell of Olympia and Ann R. Fasano of Maple Valley; a brother, Mark Liddell of League City, Texas; sisters Susan Thibodeaux of Spring, Texas, and Mary Temple of Friendswood, Texas; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial celebration and exhibit of Mr. Liddell’s work was held Sunday in France.
A memorial for friends and family in the Seattle area will be held July 26 at the Maple Valley home of his daughter. For further information, email Ann@fasano.com.
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.