He worked for the Independent Journal for 35 years. His toughest shot, he told a reporter in 1988, was of the grieving San Rafael widow of an airline crash victim on PSA flight 1771 the year before. He said he felt like an intruder when he got the shot of her face, etched in pain as she clutched a flag in a cemetery. Happier assignments, he recalled, were covering the Bay Area visit of Pope John Paul II and the return home to San Rafael of a soldier held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Hax earned more than two dozen awards from news organizations and trade associations for his photographs over the years, ranging from high school sports action to breaking news events, such as a 1967 melee at San Quentin State Prison involving American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell.
Chief photographer Robert Tong remembers Hax, “Bob was a friend, mentor, co-worker and father figure to me. I was lucky and thankful that he gave me the opportunity to work at the IJ as a young high school kid. He gave of his time and experience, and listened to me complain about my high school problems.”
Former chief photographer Scott Henry says,”when going through filed prints a couple of months ago, I was struck by his images from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. They were no-nonsense, and crisply executed. Move Weegee out of New York and drop him into Marin County and you get Bob Hax. Everyone in Marin knew Hax. When you carried camera gear into a home or business anywhere in the county and identified yourself as an IJ photographer, invariably the subject would ask ‘do you know Bob Hax?’ As chief photographer, running the IJ photo department, he hired Robert Tong to shoot sports while Tong was still a student at Drake High School in Fairfax. He knew Tong’s family from the days when Hax’s mother was mayor of Fairfax. He used to call Tong “his son” in front of everyone, and of course this embarrassed poor Robert Tong. Today Tong runs the IJ photo department.”
Retired IJ photographer Marian Little remembered, “I was just a few years out of college when I landed the photography job at the IJ. Bob made me laugh from day one. His style, both out in the field and in the dark room, is still a great memory. To this day, I will find myself recanting a Bob Hax story. I can still hear him opening the canister, unreeling his negs to the light in and in his Boris Karloff style of voice would say, ‘I have density.’ Hard to imagine that there was a day we could smoke in the building but there he was, in the print room exhaling into the light as the exposure was being made. As he tipped his tray, he explained that he felt sorry for the ‘wrinkley old gals’ and that this would soften them up. Now that I am a wrinkley old gal myself… Bob was a one of a kind, I learned many things from the gentle man and I will remember him fondly.”
A Marin native, Hax was born in San Francisco, grew up in Fairfax and attended Tamalpais High School. His interest in photography began during his high school years which led to a career in Photo Jo
urnalism. He left City College in San Francisco months before graduation to begin work at the Independent Journal as a cub photographer in 1954, rising through the ranks to become chief photographer before his retirement in 1988.
After his retirement his new focus turned to family and the natural outdoor beauty that he experienced in his travels. He sold recreational vehicles for a time after retiring from the newspaper, but his passion continued to be photography, and he recently planned to sell scenic photos at a local farmers market.
Hax was in the news himself more than once, including the time he was hailed as a hero when he jumped into the bay to save a woman who toppled over a rail during a yachting celebration. “I went in clothes and all and rescued her … and then I come to find out she was trying to commit suicide,” Hax said.
A celebration of his life and memorial service will be held on May 14, 2:30 p.m. at the Thanksgiving Lutheran Church located at 1225 Fulton Rd., Santa Rosa.
If you wish to make a donation in Hax’s name, please consider Thanksgiving Lutheran Church and Meals on Wheels, no flowers please.
Bob is survived by his beloved wife Joan of 55 years; his three children, Gary, Carol, and David; his grandchildren, Robert, Emily, and Andrew; and his great grandchild Hunter.
Marin Independent Journal