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A nose, and a heart, dedicated to the news

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2007


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photo
[Handout]
Robert "Bob'' Preston, 83, was the former Managing Editor and Photo Editor for the Evening Independent.

ROCKLEDGE - Seldom does a newspaperman end up in the newspaper.

But on Feb. 19, 1954, a seven-paragraph story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times about Bob Preston. The headline: Preston Had A Busy Day

The story detailed how, over the span of one weekend, Bob covered - and photographed - a fatal car accident, a gassing, two deaths, a shooting, a traffic jam on the Gandy Bridge, a boy-in-the-box story and several routine police activities.

Preston grew up in St. Petersburg and attended St. Petersburg High School, where he learned how to use his grandmother's camera for the school paper.

After graduation in 1941, he shipped off to the Pacific as an Army combat photographer.

His lens captured Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the ruins of Nagasaki after the bomb dropped. He didn't talk much about what he saw but received a Bronze Star for bravery and meritorious service.

After the war, Preston got a job with St. Petersburg's afternoon newspaper, the EveningIndependent, in 1946, and later joined the Times. He married and had five children, but he never seemed to get the ink out of his blood.

He took pictures and wrote stories. His photos appeared in Look and Life magazines. His children rarely saw him, since he worked odd hours shuffling from big story to small story, from murder scenes to baby ducks crossing the road.

"He had the greatest nose for news of anybody I knew around here," remembers Jerry Blizen, 80, of Tarpon Springs, who worked with Bob at the Times.

On a slow news days, he'd go home and click away.

"There was very little that we did that wasn't photographed," remembers daughter, Patricia Preston Warren, 56, of St. Petersburg. "He took pictures of us doing anything and everything, and they ended up in the paper."

After working as the Independent's chief photographer, he was promoted to managing editor in 1962, and later held the same position at a Virginia newspaper, the Palm Beach Post and the Naples Daily News. He also worked for TV station WFLA and Florida Today, where he retired in 1982 as the systems editor. He helped the paper get its work online.

Bob's health declined in recent years, but he still stayed on top of world news.

"He never gave up on the news. It was his life," his daughter said. "He died with the TV on in his room and a stack of magazines and newspapers on the table. He was the ultimate newsman."

His daughter's not too sure of what Daddy would think about a story about his life but she knows he would be true to the No. 1 rule of hard-working journalists everywhere: accuracy.

"He would want to make sure the facts were straight."

Times staff writer Stephanie Hayes and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at mave@sptimes.com or 727 893-8813.

Biography

Robert Preston

Born: March 24, 1924

Died: Sept. 18, 2007

Survivors: Daughters, Keely Preston, Patricia Preston Warren and Virginia Patton; sons: Charles Preston and Bob King; a brother, Richard I. Preston; a sister, Arlene Tingler; numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Services: 2:30-3:30 p.m. visitation and services 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Wylie-Baxley Funeral Home Chapel, 1200 S U.S. 1, in Rockledge, Fla.

[Last modified September 21, 2007, 22:45:42]


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