Paul Schmidt (1950 – 2008)

Paul Schmidt, longtime photo editor of the Sun newspapers and the Venice Gondolier weekly newspaper, died unexpectedly at his North Port home Sunday morning after suffering a heart attack. He was 58.

Schmidt joined the staff of the Gondolier in 1979 as a part-time photographer and press repairman. By 1980, he was appointed the Gondolier‘s only full-time photographer. This was a position he held until the Sun Coast Media Group, the parent corporation of the papers, purchased the Sun in the mid-1980s. After a stint with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Paul rejoined SCMG, working in Venice and eventually moving to the Charlotte daily.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing if not for him,” said Schmidt’s son, Harlan, chief photographer and reporter at local TV news station SNN. “He was a big influence on my life.”

Harlan said he grew up at the Venice Gondolier and at the Sun with his dad.

“I went out on photo assignments with him as a toddler,” he recalled. “My first job was pressman with the Venice Gondolier.”

Schmidt also has a grown daughter, Mallory. He retired from the Sun in March.

“When I joined the paper 20 years ago, Paul was the first guy to befriend me and make me feel welcome in the newsroom,” said Chris Porter, editor of the Sun newspapers. “Over the years, we spent hours working side by side, through life’s ups and downs. We did a lot of arguing, joking, discussing what it takes to make a good-looking newspaper. He had great talent and enthusiasm and he taught me a lot. I miss him.”

Jonathan Fredin, who became one of Schmidt’s most talented students, won many state and national awards for his photographs that began appearing in the Sun in the late 1990s. When he arrived at the Sun he was a good photographer, but when he left he was a great photographer, because of Schmidt’s tutelage, he said.

“I wanted to become a professional photographer, but no one took me seriously until I went to work for Paul,” Fredin said Monday. “For five years every day we went over images, and for five years he was my mentor.

“The thing about Paul was he was such a kind soul. He was more than a boss — he was very close to me and my family,” Fredin added.

Fredin left the paper in 2005. He is now the chief photographer for S.A. Cherokee, a magazine and public relations firm based in Cary, N.C.

“Paul was one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen in the news business,” said Jim Gouvellis, former Sun executive editor and now publisher of the Lake Wales News. “Because of him, our newspaper wound up with some of the best photographers in the country.

“More important, he was one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I worked with Paul, I lived with Paul, and the one thing I learned about him was that for Paul, nobody was an enemy.”

Schmidt was not only a fine teacher, he was a skilled photographer himself who won a number of state and national press association awards for his pictures, according to former co-workers.

Years ago he took a picture of a young boy in the arms of a SWAT rescuer clad in military fatigues with a submachine gun slung over his shoulder during a hostage crisis. It won first place for “Spot News Photograph” in the Florida Press Association’s annual daily newspaper contest. It was just one of many photographic awards Schmidt received during his decades as a newspaper photographer and editor.

When asked what he told prospective photographers he was interviewing for a position with the paper, Schmidt once said, “I tell them I’m looking for creativity. I’m looking for someone who has an eye.”

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