For more than 25 years, Paul Leavy has told the stories of your lives through photographs.
Joining The Valdosta Daily Times in February 1986, Paul Leavy has been a regular fixture at everything from sports sidelines to house fires, from pageants to crime scenes. His photographs have chronicled Valdosta’s tragedies and its triumphs.
In the coming years, Paul will still tell stories through photographs but, after this Tuesday, July 31, it won’t be with The Valdosta Daily Times.
On Aug. 1, Paul begins his new job as a photographer with Valdosta State University’s Creative Design Services.
To understand Paul’s impact not only at The Times but in the community, look to the doors of area refrigerators, flip through the pages of scrap books, check the photographer’s name of that newspaper clipping photograph of a son playing baseball, or a granddaughter at dance rehearsal, or your uncle at work, or any number of activity. More than likely the name accompanying that treasured newspaper clipping of your loved one is Paul Leavy.
Paul describes himself as “a second-generation photographer. I have people who come up to me and tell me I took their picture as a child. Now, I’m taking pictures of their children.”
Twenty-six years ago, when Paul began working at The Valdosta Daily Times, he was fresh from graduating the University of Florida. Having spent his childhood in Panama, where his father served as a school principal, he was accustomed to the South Georgia heat, if not its more formal attire. He arrived for his Times interview wearing Dockers but no socks, causing the newspaper staff to ask, who’s the kid without socks.
Paul got the job. Then, The Times photographs were black and white. He’s seen the paper move from solely black-and-white to color. He’s worked as a newspaper photographer from the age of film and dark rooms to film printers to film-scanned electronics to digital photography.
As for coverage, Paul’s just about seen it all.
He covered the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta. He traveled with Moody Air Force Base personnel to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He flew on a T-6. At 10,000 feet, he leaned out the open door of an airplane to capture a photo of the Golden Knights special paratrooper team skydiving.
The Panama kid nearly froze shooting a football game played in North Georgia where the temperatures plummeted into the teens. His shirt caught fire shooting the Goodyear tire blaze in Downtown Valdosta. A cougar bit Paul during the shooting of a once weekly newspaper pet feature.
And then there have been “the football games, political rallies, celebrations, birthday parties, retirement parties, graduations, and the terrible times of people’s loss,” Paul says.
While he’s been to so many events, Paul usually remembers not only everyone’s names but where they work and how they are related to each other.
And he still has what family and many in the newsroom refer to as “the Paul Effect” which is the phenomenon of everyone seeming to know Paul no matter where he goes, or his ability to keep walking deeper into situations and environments beyond the point where others are stopped. In these situations, people greet him with the familiar echo of “Paul.”
Though as well as Valdosta knows him, Paul quit correcting people years ago regarding the correct pronunciation of his last name. Leavy is pronounced lay-vee, not lee-vee. Still, mispronunciantion or not, “The Paul Effect” has made him one of the most recognizable figures in the region.
“Working for a newspaper gives a person an insight into the community that you may otherwise not have,” he says.
His two most memorable assigments: Honor Flight and covering the last Space Shuttle launch. Paul flew on all three Honor Flight missions in 2007 and 2008. “On Honor Flight, I was in awe of the people who fought in World War II.” With the shuttle, he was in awe of the end of an era. Bobby Lacey and Paul have presented to area art exhibits based on the shuttle flight and a later rare visit aboard one of the grounded space shuttles.
As for what he will miss the most, Paul will miss covering hard news. “Real hard news as it is happening can be very exciting,” he says.
He will also miss the people he regularly sees while working his all-encompassing beat throughout Valdosta and South Georgia.
But he will still be here. He and wife Amanda, and their two children Wymberley and Grayson, will remain in Valdosta. Though he will no longer be with The Valdosta Daily Times, Paul Leavy will still call Valdosta home.