James Edward “Ed” Westcott, Sr., 97, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, passed away peacefully at his daughter’s home, where he lived, on March 29, 2019.
He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on January 20, 1922, to parents Jamie Rupert Westcott and Lucille Green Westcott, who preceded him in death. Ed had one brother, Hugh “Buddy” Westcott, who also preceded him in death.
Ed was a member of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
He grew up in Nashville, and he graduated from Andrews High School and attended the Watkins Art School in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his training in photography from the Photo Craft Studio, Shadow Art Studio, and from an internship with the National Youth Administration.
He was married June 16, 1941, to a former Nashvillian, Esther Seigenthaler Westcott, who passed away in 1996.
Ed’s photography career began when he turned 13, and his father bought him his first camera, a French Foth Derby, which he used to make photographs for his friends and neighbors around Nashville. Ed would develop the film in an old abandoned pie wagon that he had converted into his first photo lab.
At the age of 14, he photographed his first president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as his motorcade passed through the streets of Nashville. During Ed’s career, he went on to photograph seven more U.S. presidents.
After high school graduation in 1939, he was employed by the Shadow Art Studio in Nashville. One of his early photo assignments was at Cain Sloan Department Store in Nashville, where he took on the name of the “Wedding Man” because of his popularity as a wedding photographer.
In February 1942, Ed began his 35-year government career as a photographer with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Ohio River Division, Nashville District, where he was assigned to seven southeastern states to photograph site selection of new military projects, construction of hydro-electric plants, flood control locks and dams, military air bases, camps, etc.
Westcott transferred to Oak Ridge in December of 1942 at the young age of 20 as chief photographer for the Manhattan Engineering District, Clinton Engineer Works, and he was the 29th employee hired by them for the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge. Ed’s assignments were to generate construction progress documentation in still photographs as well as motion picture films. He also provided pictures for the residential community’s weekly newspaper, the Oak Ridge Journal, from 1943 to 1948, and assisted the Army in photographing educational-purpose surgical procedures and autopsies at the Oak Ridge medical facilities. Supervised by the information-conscious General Leslie Groves, Westcott responded to press inquiries about subjects that included project costs, worker health, labor unions, women workers, housing, religious life, and race relations.
Until August 6, 1945, Ed was the only person inside the reservation allowed to legally have a camera. Ed’s images reflect both the diversity of the Manhattan Project functions and the tight security restrictions under which he labored at all times. A substantial amount of photos documented construction of the X-10, Y-12, S-50, K-25, and K-27 complexes, along with supporting infrastructure. There was also extensive coverage of urban engineering at Oak Ridge with exterior and interior documentation of the multiple types of residential housing: duplexes, cemestos, portable four-family homes, trailers, hutments, apartments, and dormitories. Ground-level views were supplemented by some 300 low-level aerial shots, taken by Westcott from a Piper Cub airplane, showing the lay-out of residential neighborhoods, streets, shopping centers, town squares, and assorted municipal facilities.
In his work for the Oak Ridge Journal and later for the Public Relations Office, Westcott explored a considerable spectrum of social, cultural, and commercial life in Oak Ridge. Included were many activities at schools, churches, stores, outdoor markets, post offices, recreation rooms, dance halls, cafeterias, bars, soda fountains, swimming pools (and old-fashioned swimming “holes”), bowling alleys, theaters, and concert halls.
In one of his more famous photographs of 1945, Westcott captured a crowd of Oak Ridgers gathered to celebrate news of the end of World War II. This photo is still published in newspapers and magazines around the world even today.
By the summer of 1945, as Project officials were gearing up for public relations activities that would follow the president’s expected announcement about the Manhattan Project war effort, Westcott returned to the Army payroll. “It is recommended,” Lieutenant Colonel William A. Considine advised General Groves on June 27, 1945, “that Westcott be obtained through District Engineer Col. Kenneth D. Nichols and assigned to taking pictures at Oak Ridge under the direction of Public Relations Liaison, Lt. G.O. Robinson.”
Photos by Westcott were among the two dozen pictures that accompanied the first national press release revealing the atom bomb project. Several days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, armed guards delivered four rolls of Army film to Westcott’s photo lab for him to process. As the guards waited outside the door, Westcott unveiled the first images of the devastation which occurred in Hiroshima as a result of the bomb.
After World War II, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was formed to oversee the town of Oak Ridge. In the 1950s and 1960s, AEC was heavily involved in the peaceful uses of atomic energy research and the development of nuclear testing and promoting nuclear power plants. During this period Westcott traveled to other government sites to record construction progress of AEC projects in Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; Puerto Rico; and New Brunswick, New Jersey. He also managed photographic activities at underground nuclear weapon tests near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He prepared photographic documentation of the areas before construction of the AEC Savannah River project in Aiken, South Carolina, and the Reactor Testing Station in Idaho.
Westcott continued as principal Oak Ridge photographer with the AEC until he transferred to AEC Headquarters in Germantown, Maryland, in 1966, as chief of Still Picture Section, Division of Public Information. There, he established the world’s largest library of more than 10,000-energy related still pictures, color slides, audio broadcasts of tapes and other visual aids, and added captions to this vast collection. He designed an in-house photo lab, sound recording studio, control booth, motion picture studio, projection theater, and film tape editing room. Westcott also created an automated retrieval system to serve newspapers, magazines, and text books with energy photographs.
As chief photographer, Ed traveled with Chairmen Seaborg, Ray, Schlesinger, and Seamen to energy projects throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Westcott worked in the White House on special assignments with Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, as well as other high U.S. officials and foreign heads of state. Westcott photographed the White House signing ceremonies of the creation of the Department of Energy and the swearing in ceremony of Dr. James Schlesinger as Secretary of Energy in 1977. Westcott’s illustrations were used in annual reports to Congress and other world-wide publications such as text books, newspapers and magazines, museums, traveling exhibits, movies and television, the Atomic Industrial Forum, the American Museum of Atomic Energy, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 1977, he retired and returned to his beloved town of Oak Ridge with his wife, Esther. He continued to work under private contract with DOE, Martin Marietta, and Precision Arts Inc.
During his life, he enjoyed amateur radio and built a “radio shack” wherever he was living, including a mobile station operated from his car. He belonged to several ham radio clubs and broadcast “nets” and was operating his station “W4UVS” up until his death.
Ed was a charter member of several Oak Ridge organizations including the Elks Club, the ’43 Club, the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, and Oak Ridge Council for Retarded Children, where he served as treasurer.
Even though he had physical limitations, Ed followed the creation of the Oak Ridge History Museum closely, knowing the importance of preserving Oak Ridge history and keeping the “Atomic City” story alive for future generations.
In 2005, with the help of his children, Ed fulfilled his dream and published, through the Images of America Series, a book of his favorite photographs titled “Oak Ridge.”
He has received many local, national, and international recognitions and awards during his lifetime.
He is survived by sons, James “Jim” Westcott Jr. and wife, Vickilynne, of Hermitage, Tennessee; David Westcott and wife, Anita, of Frederick, Maryland; William Westcott of Oak Ridge, Tennessee; John Westcott and wife, Danielle, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and daughter, Emily Hunnicutt and husband, Don Hunnicutt, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee; grandchildren Michael Westcott of Rockville, Maryland; Lori Westcott of Gaithersburg, Maryland; Andrew Westcott of Key West, Florida; Philip Westcott of Jefferson, Maryland; Mary Westcott of Fredrick, Maryland; Kathy Jennings of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Paul Hunnicutt of Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Daniel Westcott of Richman, California; Clara Mount of Knoxville, Tennessee; and great-grandchildren Vaughn Westcott and Bonam Westcott of Rockville, Maryland; Kaitlyn Tau of Gaithersburg, Maryland; Mary Jennings, Natalie Jennings, Audrey Jennings, and Laura Jennings of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Scotty Hunnicutt and Madison Hunnicutt of Karns, Tennessee; Orian Mount and Maverick Mount of Knoxville, Tennessee; and Nicolai Westcott of Richman, California.
The family will receive friends Thursday, April 4, 2019, at Martin Oak Ridge Funeral Home, 1017 Oak Ridge Turnpike, from 4-7 p.m., with a service to immediately follow with the Reverend Dr. H. Lawrence Boudon officiating.
Internment will be at Oak Ridge Memorial Park, 1501 Bethel Valley Rd., Friday, April 5, 2019, at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Ed’s honor to the Oak Ridge History Museum, Attention Bob Smallridge, Treasurer, 108 Carnegie Drive, Oak Ridge, TN 37830.
Online messages may be left for the family at www.martinfuneralhomeoakridge.com. Services entrusted to Martin oak Ridge Funeral Home at (865) 483-4341.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See Ed’s obituary on the Martin Oak Ridge Funeral Home website here.
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