By: E&P Staff
When George Gongora retired June 24 after almost 44 years as a Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times photographer, he received quite the send-off from the Scripps daily — a 1,650-word recap of his career and a remarkably effective and affecting video slide show, narrated by Gongora and sampling the range of his work over the years.
The 66-year-old’s decades of service led to wide-ranging coverage, but Gongora is best known for his tenacity. “George has been the heart and soul of the Caller-Times within the community for decades,” Editor Shane Fitzgerald told staff writer Jessica Savage. “I’m amazed at the places he gets into and the people he knows. So many of us can learn so much by just the way he goes about his business.”
Gongora learned photography in the Army, which took the speaker of eight languages around the world before discharging him at Fort Monmouth, in New Jersey. Gongora then moved back to his hometown on the Gulf of Mexico, where he joined the ranks of the Caller-Times‘ first Hispanic staffers.
Savage quotes longtime reporter and editor Nick Jimenez saying that Gongora’s heritage “made him highly trusted by a lot of groups in the Mexican community that didn’t trust the media,” and that he “became invaluable at keeping the newspaper in touch with different segments of the city.”
In his last week, Gongora was assigned to shoot the demolition of Memorial Coliseum’s roof, reflecting both his first assignment — a school being razed — and the persistence he’d shown ever since — persuading a cop called by the demolition crew that he should be where he was, doing what he was doing.
For the photographer “with a bunk in the office,” that determination showed in other ways: crossing a barricaded bridge to get to breaking news; hanging by a rope held by a maintenance worker on the roof of a tall building to get a better shot of window washer at work; continuing to photograph a mountain lion cub while while being repeatedly stung by Africanized bees.
In his online narration, Gongora briefly recounts how he managed to get to and cover the surrender of an armed suspect carrying a small child during a stand-off with police. Savage quotes former mayor and police chief Henry Garret saying, “George was always the kind of guy that he knew where the line was and he would push it a little bit, but we trusted him with the fact that he was there trying to do his job.”