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August 31, 2014

A Moment in Linemen History: The Story Behind the Pulitzer Prize Winning Image ‘The Kiss of Life’, 1967

There are not many who would want to work at great heights with high-voltage, but when a line needs repair, that is where the linemen will be. Understanding the dangers of working with high-voltage equipment is mandatory and the job is not for just anyone. Not only does the occupation require an in-depth knowledge of electricity, repairing wires, and safety needs, but a good amount of nerves and confidence as well.

Understanding the risks involved with the job and having the proper safety background make all the difference to both a utility company and a worker. Making a mistake near a high-voltage wire can cause tremendous damage, even if he or she has the proper protective equipment (PPE). On a fateful day in 1967, one photographer would bear witness to the dangers and resulting safety protocol and heroic actions of linemen on the job. The moment would live on in history as the Pulitzer Prize winning image, ‘The Kiss of Life’.

The Kiss of Life

It was a hot July day, 1967, Florida, and although the day started out like any other morning, it would become a day that would live in linemen history.

Rocco Morabito, a journalist with the Jacksonville Journal, was headed to a local news event and paused to watch as linemen worked above him. He went on to cover a railroad strike and click a few images. As Rocco tells the story, he thought he would go back to ‘rind another picture’ but as he passed the linemen, he heard screaming. Looking up, there was Randall G. Champion. Randall was unconscious, his body hanging limp but still in his safety harness. J. D. Thompson, an apprentice lineman, reacted with lightening speed, racing to the pole and shimming up to Champion. The position of Champion’s body made it impossible to administer CPR so Thompson cradled his head in his arm and began giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, working to breath life back into his fellow lineman.

Being a photojournalist, Rocco quickly snapped an image and then ran to his car, radioing the paper to call an ambulance. Unable to help, Rocco grabbed his camera. He backed up and continued to walk backward until he hit a house. With no where else to go, he clicked the image. As he snapped that photo, Thompson yelled out, “He’s Breathing!”

After Rocco ‘got the shot’, he returned to his car and again radioed the newspaper dispatch, this time, telling them,”You might want to wait for this. I think I’ve got a pretty good one.” And indeed he did. Rocco Morabito went on to win the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot Photography – the first of its kind. Bob Pate, the copy editor of the Jacksonville Journal is credited with the ‘slug that stuck’,”The Kiss of Life.” From safety classes to anthologies, and even a documentary in 2008 on the 40th anniversary of that fateful event, the photo has maintained a life of its own.

Rocco Morabito and his iconic picture.

And those men, Champion and Thompson, they both continued to work as linemen in the years to follow. Champion retired in 1991. Sadly, he passed away in 2002 at the age of 64 as a result of heart failure. Thompson retired around 1995 having received several awards for his heroism and quick thinking. He is noted as having said that, “he was acting on his training and was thankful he could revive his downed co-worker.” He was just “doing his job.”

Rocco continued to work for the newspaper for a total of 42 years, 33 of those yeas as a photographer. He retired in 1982. Rocco Morabito passed away at the age of 88 on April 5, 2009. His work, including “The Kiss of Life”, will continue to live on, illustrating the harrowing work that our linemen men and women perform every day.

(via Border States)



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