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Jacksonville Historical Society documented “the story” of the city’s Pulitzer Prize photo


Rocco Morabito with his Pulitzer Prize winning photo, Kiss of Life.

Fifty years ago today, on July 17, 1967, Jacksonville Journal photographer, Rocco Morabito, took a photograph that earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Near the intersection of West 26th and Grunthal Streets in Northwest Jacksonville, Morabito snapped the now-legendary photograph of a city utility worker resuscitating a fellow lineman shocked by a high-voltage wire.  The lineman, Randall Champion, survived.  Morabito’s photograph earned him the 1968 Pulitzer in the Spot News category.

Ten years ago, the Jacksonville Historical Society sought the help of local production company PRC Digital Media to gather oral histories of the people connected to the story.  “We knew this was the time before the major players in this dramatic city event were lost to us,” said society Executive Director Emily Lisska.

“At the time, the 40th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize winning photo was approaching. The oral histories were so riveting, we knew we had to turn them into a documentary.”

On the 40th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, the Jacksonville Historical Society unveiled the documentary. Morabito, who died in April 2009, at age 88, was the guest of honor at the documentary’s 2008 premiere to a standing-room-only crowd at Jacksonville Historical Society’s downtown headquarters, Old St. Andrews.

The documentary was a production conceived and funded by the Jacksonville Historical Society.

“I think it’s wonderful that Rocco had the opportunity to experience the impact of his beautiful, life-affirming photograph,” said Lisska.

1967 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph in the Spot News Category, Kiss of Life.

The film was also turned into a television documentary that received two Suncoast Emmy awards. Kiss of Life won the Emmy for “Best Documentary” in the historical category beating out eight other nominees.  Bill Retherford also won an Emmy for “Best Writing.”

The Society of Professional Journalists also named Kiss of Life Florida’s Best Public Affairs Television Program of 2008.

“It was an incredible act of heroism, a life-or-death moment, all captured by Rocco in a split second,” said Lisska, “It was an extraordinary moment for our city.”

With most of the personalities gone who were involved in the story, the 50th anniversary is bittersweet. However, just last week, Lisska talked with electric company linemen J.D. Thompson, who saved the life of Randall Champion.  “Now, that was a sweet moment,” said Lisska.

To watch the video, please click here to be directed to YouTube.

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