When the word came around that Picture Editor John Stebbins had turned 60 and was retiring to New Mexico, there was an audible gasp among younger members of our staff. Stebbins may be the youngest, fittest-looking 60 in all of New York, and those junior citizens among us, who had believed that life more or less ended at 30, began to realize that they just might have a few more good years ahead.
Stebbins has been an integral part of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S operation from the very beginning. In December of 1953, when pictures for the first dummy issue of the magazine were being processed in our Chicago printer's plant, John was there as a member of the production staff. And two weeks ago, while UCLA was walloping Houston in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, he was there at courtside, waiting to bring film back to New York. In his six years as picture editor—he took over that post in 1962—Stebbins has made 4,353 photographic assignments, flown to and from dozens of sporting events and painstakingly perused tens of thousands of rolls of film.
From boyhood (he grew up in Augusta, Ga.), John seemed always to have a camera in his hand and a dark-room in the attic. "I started with a Brownie taking pictures of Old Faithful," he winces. "I really did. I hate to tell you." At 17, Stebbins went to work for The New Yorker and stayed for 17 years. "It was a modest operation then," he says. "Scissors were tied to desks with string and the vice-president's window had a pane missing." In World War II he worked in, and later headed, the Overseas Technical Unit, which took approach pictures of remote airstrips all over the world. "Once we were lost off Chile," he recalls. "We were preparing to ditch when the pilot finally homed in on a transmitter playing an old Victrola record."
Stebbins has had a few moments of danger with us, too, most notably the night he answered a knock on his New York hotel door only to be shoved back by two hoodlums, who pushed him down, tied him up, tore out his telephone and then stole several hundred dollars' worth of photographic equipment. John's move to the less savage wilds of the Southwest has been foreshadowed by vacations. For 10 consecutive summers he, his wife Alison and sons Jeff and Tucker hiked and climbed in central British Columbia. The Stebbinses have also frequented Maine, Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula, the British Virgin Islands and, more recently, sunny New Mexico, which they have settled on because "we've shoveled 60 feet of driveway for 15 years." In New Mexico, John says, "First, we hope to find a stream, some mountains and some woods. Then we'll build a darkroom."
April 8, 1968
Taking over as photography editor is 39-year-old George Bloodgood, who joined SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in 1956 and who has been with Time Inc. for 22 years. That, too, is hard to believe—because Bloodgood also looks young for his age.