There are some people who you always know you can count on, no matter what. They are not necessarily your best friend. You may not see them for a day, a month, or a year. But you know they are always around. Wally McNamee was one of those people. Always good humored and always positive despite the seriousness of the situation. A few months ago mutual friends invited us to visit with Wally one last time. He was ill and his son had moved him from the Carolina coast to the DC area to take care of hm. Wally wanted to say goodbye to his photo friends and some of the people he wanted to see. To fade your own mortality is a brave thing to do.
Anyway, His son brought him in a wheel chair attached to an oxygen tank and mask. It didn’t matter, you could still see that smile even though it was partially covered by the plastic. When you write about someone you loved you can only describe what they meant to you. So forgive me for the “me” element.
Wally covered Presidential campaigns and the White House at a time when there were no cell phones, computers or almost any technology. We met on some campaign and continued to enjoy one another’s company beginning in the mid 70’s on some political trip. It was hard working with the media because they did what they were supposed to do and as staff, we did what we were supposed to do — and often produced conflict. The press, especially photographers, did not with a few exceptions, “have our backs.” Wally was an exception. He was someone who not only saw the humor in what we were all trying to do, but he was able to recognize when someone, be it a photographer, staff, or VIP, was being an asshole. And he always found a subtle way to let them know that their behavior was unacceptable. Sometimes it was a little more forceful than words — like the time a Russian photo thug was pushing us around, and Wqlly clocked him on top of his head with a fairly big camera. The camera was not hurt. And my favorite Wally story was when we were in France or China (they all start to look alike), and a 4 foot tall and 4 foot round pretend white haired female writer/photographer, couldn’t get past foreign security. No one ever knew how she got them, but she had permanent White House credentials. And she was always a pain in the butt. For example, when David…. never mind. Anyway, she was trying to get through foreign security. They looked at her and even with White House credentials, they wouldn’t let her through. She saw Wally and begged him to help. He thought about it for a minute, pulled out a dollar bill which has George Washington’s picture of course, pointed to that picture, pointed to the woman, and the guard let her through.
It is hard to explain how dear some of the people with whom you travel during these stressful times become to you. You bond personally and professionally. We celebrated holidays, happy occasions, and sad times with the friends whose company was important and whose lives and family were intertwined with our own. When you are writing about someone like Wally, it is impossible to express all the emotions you feel. But you, our readers, understand.
Wally and Nikki. They were simple attached and it is hard for me to mention one and not the other. This blob will include what I wrote about Nikki MacNamee who was Wally’s wife and in a women’s group we started when, as newly arrived young women in DC, we needed friends. Nikki died a few years ago and was missed by all who knew her. Wally died a few days ago, it is hard to believe he and his wife Nikki are both gone.
Nikki was also a star. Politics and photographers were mostly what brought us together. And that gave us opportunity to see one another outside the group –- which was also nice. Usually we had a bite at whoever’s house and often go someplace for a drink. (those were not days we worried about drinking and driving because we never drank very much and we all lived within a few miles of one another.) There was one night when Nikki made a request of a biker bartender that we all laughed so hard we almost fell off our bar stools. She wanted a Courvoisier and ice. It was hard to imagine that she actually expected them to have it, but it was what she wanted and expected. The bartender looked at her as if she was speaking some foreign language and said, “we don’t have none of that,” and Nikki persevered. “Well you must, it’s cognac and you must have cognac”. It went on for quite sometime, until in frustration she said, “OK we are outta here, and we are not coming back.” We were still laughing when we left. Of course we are not coming back, we didn’t know why we were there in the first place.
Wally and Nikki were simply loving, gracious, independent friends, and always up for some kind of adventure. When you are married to a photojournalist, you have to be pretty flexible. The best part for all of us was that she and her husband adored one another. It was wonderful to watch them together and to be a part of their lives. Rest in Peace my friends, we are comforted by the fact you are together again.