Photographer for nine Florida governors had a VIP angle

TALLAHASSEE

With his camera, Eric Tournay documented the days of Florida's last nine governors — cataloging Wayne Mixson's three days in office to Jeb Bush's eight years.

Tournay, 62, was there when Bob Graham sent 1,000 National Guard troops to curb the Miami race riots in 1980. He felt the tension in 2000, when Bush and his brother awaited the results of Florida's famous presidential recount.

He was there, too, when Charlie Crist spoke his wedding vows — complete with protesters chanting outside the ceremony.

Last year he welcomed a new man to the Governor's Mansion: Rick Scott.

With a camera. Always.

Tournay, known as E.T., retired in February after a 35-year career as the personal photographer of Florida's chief executive.

His portfolio is understandably epic: 1 million images.

So don't ask him to pick a favorite.

"Each governor was very special," Tournay said. "Askew, Graham, Chiles, Bush. . . . It was never about politics. It was always about photography."

He snapped each governor's official portrait. And he watched them address protests, welcome world leaders and comfort families after natural disasters.

Beginning with Reubin Askew in 1977, Tournay captured each governor's place in Florida history, a potentially tricky government job that exposed him to both the policy and the personal.

From promoting tourism at the Florida Department of Commerce, Tournay gradually slid into taking photos of the governor and Cabinet.

"He approached the job with a servant's heart," said Colin Hackley, a friend and fellow Tallahassee photographer. "That's what enabled him to last so long."

In the early days, the pictures were black-and-white slices of life.

He photographed big-haired young women sunning on Daytona Beach in one-piece swimsuits. And a jazzed-up Chevrolet El Camino leading Tampa's Gasparilla parade.

But the position also gave Tournay access to private government meetings, from budget negotiations to conferences between governors and world leaders.

During closed-door conversations when the media were relegated to a lobby or sidewalk, Tournay had VIP access, Hackley said.

"Everyone standing on the outside of the door was jealous of E.T. as he came walking out of the room where the history had been made," Hackley said with a laugh.

Promoting the governor was Tournay's first duty, but he often stepped aside to let photojournalists capture the most coveted shots.

"It's not important who took the photo, it's important only the photo exists," he said.

Tournay found himself center stage for Florida's key historical moments.

Or at least aiming the lens from a side-of-the-room step stool (E.T. is 5 feet 6).

He might dispense some of his pictures to the press. Many sailed straight to the state archives.

As a state employee, Tournay's every photo is a public record. So he made a point to turn off his camera during private moments. In the governor's office, he learned how to quietly slip out the back door.

His soft-spoken demeanor helped him earn the trust of the governors and their wives and children.

"If I could've, I would have hid under the furniture sometimes," Tournay said.

Graham, whose four daughters were teenagers at the time he was governor, trusted Tournay — who has five children — with the family secrets, Graham said.

"Any father could identify with some of the things teenage girls might do that would have the potential of being very embarrassing," Graham said. "E.T. understood how to exercise his discretion, while at the same time being aggressive in assuring there was a total record of all other activities."

Tournay and Lawton Chiles got along so well, the first lady asked Tournay to put down his camera to be the governor's travel aide. The job, which usually goes to a governor's best ally, required Tournay to keep him on schedule.

Tournay was at the Governor's Mansion when Chiles died of a heart attack on a Saturday afternoon in 1998, he said, crying at the memory.

Chiles' wife, Rhea, locked herself in her room. Tournay called the governor's son and his chief of staff.

"The governor's down," he said, unable to utter the word "dead."

Tournay would never say so, but the position almost certainly involved careful navigation of touchy egos.

And not just politicians'.

His portfolio includes celebrities, musicians and athletes from Sylvester Stallone and Joe DiMaggio to Jimmy Buffett and Prince Charles. He has met every president and first lady since Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Alongside the governor, Tournay met three Miss Universe winners.

He shot photos of Cindy Crawford as she sprinted down Key Biscayne in a cameo for the 1995 movie Fair Game. A shot of Chiles, also running on the beach, was cut by the editors.

No problem, the governor joked later. He wouldn't complain about running on a beach with a supermodel.

"On the clock" for Tournay often meant accompanying the governor to the White House or on international trade missions.

He flew with Graham to Brazil, Chiles to Haiti and Crist to Europe. He spent plenty of time on Rick Scott's private jet.

While waiting in an airplane terminal with Bush during his second year in office, the governor (half-teasing) asked Tournay why his job shouldn't be privatized.

Weeks later, Tournay presented the governor with a bound report on why the state got off cheaper by keeping him on the public payroll.

Tournay was prepared to keep working long past the year. But he was about to start receiving his state retirement benefits, and Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara told him Scott doesn't believe in "double-dipping" — earning a salary and a pension at the same time.

Tournay passed his duties to colleague and close friend Stacy Ferris. The office also hired someone new.

Reality struck him the first morning he checked his email. Nobody had sent him the governor's schedule, he said.

He still stops by the Old Capitol office almost every day. Still adjusting.

"I never thought of myself as a great photographer," he said. "Just someone lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com.

Photographer for nine Florida governors had a VIP angle 05/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 7, 2012 12:47pm]

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