Longtime photojournalist and Portland resident Frank Empson died on Sept. 3 at home. He was 85.
Frank Delano Empson, was born in Gallatin, on May 20, 1934 to the late Ward Empson and Evelyn Graves Empson.
Empson was a United States Army veteran, serving in the military from 1956-58 and later became a decorated and devoted journalist. He worked for 37 years at the Nashville Tennessean as a photographer and chief photographer. Empson's achievement including photographing eight Presidents, two World Fairs, the first non-stop flight to England and numerous football games and other sporting events.
"He was aware that he had photographed many historical events and was always willing to speak to groups using his photography for educational purposes," former Leader staff writer Bonnie Fussell said. "His photography of the civil rights movement in Nashville is invaluable. His contagious smile an love of people will be missed."
He, also, had passion for sketching, drawing, and loved painting portraits.
After his retirement from The Tennessean, Empson and his wife, Pat, traveled and he also worked as a part-time photographer for the Portland Leader for eight years, mainly working as a sports photographer. Empson was a fixure on the sidelines at Panther football games, and courtside for basketball and volleyball games as well.
"It's like Portland Panthers sports and Frank were synonymous with each other. Frank and Curtis Marlin were always there covering Portland sports," said former Leader editor Sonya Thompson. For him, it was about the kids. He loved being able to get pictures of the kids and capture those moments.
"Even when he started to slow down, and his wife wanted him to slow down and acknowledge he was getting on in years, he couldn't. It killed him to sit in the stands. I think he retired and stayed in the stands for like one game, and then he came back. He could not not be out there photographing Panther football."
Thompson said Empson's passing, "is a great loss for Portland and especially the high school, and all those kids he photographed fro all those years, they'll never forget Frank Empson, nor will I."
Marlin said he first met Empson at a Portland football scrimmage, and that Empson was just taking photos for fun when Marlin asked him if he would like to shoot pictures for the Leader.
"Frank Empson was a great photographer and a even better person. He was very professional and wanted to always get the perfect shot, which he always did," Marlin said. "I had recognized Frank's name through the years I had subscribed to the Tennessean. He took just as much care in taking pictures at a middle school or high school game as he did taking pictures of the eight presidents he was fortunate to cover or the other countless events he attended for the Tennessean.
"We traveled to a lot of games that Portland played in while Frank was a member of the Leader staff and he always had stories to tell about his past adventures. We were very blessed to have Frank on our staff and my life has been blessed by getting to know Frank. Frank's pastor, Steve W. VanHooser, told the large crowd at Frank's funeral Friday, that Frank had a zeal for life and enjoyed life. And he did. I know Pat is grieving, as all of us are. But the memories of her years with Frank will give her comfort over the next days, weeks and months."
Empson was happy to give back not only to the community, but to his fellow staffers at the Leader. Thompson recalled that he helped her learn about the nuances of sports photography.
Fussell said Empson was helpful with her transition into journalism after she retired as a librarian.
"Frank became a mentor to me when I retired from education an began writing for the Portland Leader," Fussell said. "His knowledge of photography and journalism was extremely helpful to me as an untrained journalist. He was an encourager, and it was always great to be with him when we attended the Tennessee Press Awards. He was an important part of The Portland Leader family."
Empson was preceded in death by his wife, Peggy Scruggs Empson; daughters, Sue Scruggs Hoyal and Barbara Empson Dorris.
Empson is survived by his wife, Pat Anglea Empson; son, Mike Scruggs (Debbi) of Collierville; daughter, Peggy Scruggs Patterson (Danny) of Westmoreland; brother, Dr. William Empson (Betty) of Hermitage; step-daughters, Beth Anglea Leftwich (Gary) of White House and Gail Anglea Stroud of Franklin; grandchildr en, Corey (Austyn) Scruggs, Jonathan (Carolyn) Scruggs, Sara (Geoff) Lorenz, Julia (John) Bell, Erin (Greg) Carter, Amy (David) Miller, Forest (Daniel) Petroski, Max Dorris and Ayva Dorris; step-grandchildren, Cara West, Cala (Craig) Ballentine, Catie (Matt) Bailey, Coleman (Lindsay) Stroud, Amber (Nathan) West, and Brandon (Angel) Leftwich; and many great grandchildren.
Mr. Empson was a long-time faithful member of McKendree Memorial United Methodist Church in Portland, where he served in different roles, especially the Grace Meals. He loved the Lord, his church, his family, and his many friends.
Funeral services for Mr. Empson were held Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 at McKendree Memorial United Methodist Church with Pastor Steven Vanhooser officiating. Interment was at Portland Memorial Gardens.
Pall Bearers were Corey Scruggs, Jonathon Scruggs, John Bell, Daniel Petroski, Max Dorris, Coleman Stroud, Brandon Leftwich, Craig Ballentine and Matt Bailey.
Funeral arrangements were administered by Wilkinson & Wiseman Funeral Home In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to McKendree Memorial United Methodist Church, 208 Wheeler St. Portland, TN 37148 for the Grace Meal Fund or Piano Fund.