Tall people aren't the only ones who cast tall shadows. Take J Malan Heslop, for instance. He stands 5 foot 9 inches, but for 40 years he has cast some mighty tall shadows at the Deseret News.
J (no period: "It's a name and not an initial.") is retiring Wednesday after 20 years as the newspaper's chief photographer, eight years as Church News editor and 10 years as managing editor. (he served two years as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chicago in between stints as managing editor.)During the four decades that he has been a professional newsman, J has taken more photographs and written and edited more stories than anyone would care to count.
His shadow will be across the Deseret News for years to come. His retirement marks the end of era. He came to the paper along with several others in the years following World War II, and virtually all now are gone.
Even after 40 years, the pressures and stress of being involved in putting out a daily newspaper never became a grind to J - he loves his work, and for the 26 years that I have known him, he has always acted like it was fun to come to work.
For the first 25 years or so of his career, J's name appeared under his photographs or on his stories as J M. Heslop. Once when he was Church News editor and we were still using typewriters instead of word processors to write stories, he typed his name on an article: By J Malan Heslop. (the Malan is an Italian family surname.)
"Why," I asked him, "are you changing your byline all of a sudden to include your middle name?"
He replied, "Everybody else has a first name, and I thought it was time for me to have a name rather than just an initial."
Since then his name has appeared in the paper as J Malan Heslop, but among the staff the name Malan never caught on. He's still called J or J M. by those who work with him.
His last name, Heslop, is English, meaning "hazel hope." But the way some people pronounce it has caused him a certain irritation through the years. The accent is on the first syllable, not the last - it's Hes'-lup, with a soft last syllable, not a hard He-slop'. But if that isn't bad enough, some people even say Hel'-sop. "Where do they get that from?" J asks.
J didn't major in journalism or photography in college. He majored in agriculture at Utah State University. The school was close to his Weber County home, but he never really intended to be a farmer. He was going to be a "western and agricultural" photographer.
Photography was in his blood. When he was young his dad took him into the kitchen of their home, darkened the room, and under a red light taught him how to process a roll of film. During high school he was probably the only kid in school to have his own Speed Graphic camera, which, for those who may not know, was a large and terribly heavy and awkward piece of equipment. By today's standards, it is certainly a dinosaur. But in those days, the Speed Graphic was the camera of professionals.
The young, dark-brown-haired boy must have really stood out as he scurried through his high school halls lugging his Speed Graphic, which he also took with him when he went to college and across Europe during World War II as a combat photographer in the Signal Corps.
When J was chief photographer, a position he was named to shortly after he began working for the Deseret News in 1948, he was often asked, "Is that all you do is take pictures?" But J doesn't "just take pictures." He's an artist with a camera. He has won so many photo awards during his career that he can't begin to remember them all. His file in the Deseret News library is filled with clippings reporting his award-winning photos in one contest or another. But receiving a blue ribbon for first place or best of show isn't half as important to J as knowing that his photographs are the very best because he did his very best to make them that way.
A couple of years ago, he and I were in Israel on assignment for the Church News. He woke me early one day so we could photograph the sun as it popped over the horizon and cast its morning rays onto the Old City of Jerusalem. Watching him work was a marvel. He had to have just the right lighting, the right location. He scurried about hither and yon, looking for the right conditions for the right picture. I saw that same high degree of professionalism wherever he photographed any picture, whether it was of the deeply tanned street vendor of oranges in the Arab city of Gaza or of a sunset on the Dead Sea. J is a master with a camera.
However, 20 years ago, he had to make a decision. He was asked to be editor of the Church News. The Deseret News management felt that the department needed his leadership. It was a tough decision for him, but he felt the Church News offered new challenges, although it also meant he would have to trade his camera for a typewriter. It was not an easy jump, but J did it.
When he first became Church News editor, his writing was rough. He had a hard time spelling correctly and his story flow was choppy. But write he did. Although he wasn't faced with an early-morning deadline, he would still arrive at the office at 4 or 5 a.m.
He has always been a morning person, and in the early predawn hours, left to himself and undisturbed by interruptions, he would write and write and write. He produced more copy than any other person on the staff. He carried a pocket dictionary with him to look up the words he didn't know how to spell. And in the process of writing, his skills as a wordsmith became more refined and his ability as a writer became honed. He became a fairly good writer with an ability to capture in words what he used to capture on film.
But J is more than a photographer, writer or editor. He is a leader, a motivator, and the Deseret News recognized this by awarding him its first-ever "Outstanding Performance Award" in 1972. At that time, the award carried with it a $500 cash bonus. That was back in the days when you could buy a "finely tailored" double-knit men's suit for $60 or chuck roast USDA prime for 66 cents a pound. J split that cash award with the Church News staff, keeping $250 for himself, and dividing the other $250 with the five members of his department.
J likes to keep busy. He's always involved in one project or another. One day he said to me, "Why don't we write a book?" I'd had that desire for a long time, but it only swirled around my head and didn't result into anything until J got us going. "In fact," he said, "why don't we write 10 books in 10 years?" Well, we never quite made that goal, but through J's motivation, we did write seven books in 10 years.
It was an interesting experience, co-authoring with him. Because he works better in the morning, he would write in the mornings. Because I am a night person, I would write in the evenings. During the day, we then would talk about what we had written. It was a good working relationship.
J even dabbled in oil painting. On the wall of his office for many years hung a painting he did in 1971 showing scenes he passed on his way to work from his home near Ensign Peak. Under the peak looms his home, shown even bigger than the Capitol or the Church Office Building. The painting portrays in an imaginative way the feelings he has for his home, where he and his wife, Fae, live. Their five children are now all grown.
J never lost his zest for photography. After he became Church News editor, he would still come to work with his Leica or Rolleiflex draped around his neck. One time he told me he didn't know if it was dignified or not for a Church News editor to be walking around with a camera hanging from his neck. But whatever the answer was, he was rarely without his cameras, either in or out of the office. His cameras were as much a fixture on his desk as his in-and-out baskets.
As Church News editor, he traveled to many areas of the world on assignment with LDS Church leaders, always bringing back enough photos and articles to last for several months. One of his favorite stories from those trips was when he was in a hot and muggy airport without air conditioning in South America and President Spencer W. Kimball shared a bottle of soda pop with him. It is a special memory for him.
Working for J Heslop and with him has been a choice experience. He is always enthusiastic and full of ideas. There is always something to learn from him, whether it is about photography or about life. We spent many hours talking together. He not only is a good teacher, but also a good listener.
J delighted in the success of others. When I photographed my first cover for the Church News - a picture of President Joseph Fielding Smith at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii - I think J was as excited as I was when the paper came out. J has never been threatened by the successes of those under him. Nor has he been threatened when those under him disagree with him. Even though he was the boss, he didn't always have to be "right."
J never aspired to higher positions at the Deseret News, but he made another giant leap in his career 12 years ago when he was named managing editor, now the No. 2 position at the paper. He often told me that he never dreamed he would be anything higher in management than chief photographer. But then, showing what a class person he is, he said if he had remained a photographer during his entire career, he still would have been very happy about it.
Still fit and trim, J goes to the Deseret Gym nearly every day and enjoys a good swim or fast game of handball. And, amazingly, he can still get in his old Army uniform.
During the past 40 years, J has had a window to life that very few people have had. And now, even though he is retiring from work, he won't be "closing the shutter" on his camera or putting away his writing tools. He loves photography and writing too much to lay them aside now.