Mel Toadvine's historic photos featured in Salisbury University exhibit

Longtime Daily Times photographer/editor enjoyed access to newsmakers

By Susan Canfora
Posted 10/20/21

In the days when Mel Toadvine was Managing Editor of The Daily Times, where he worked in several capacities, from photographer to reporter to editor, from 1961 until 1996, it wasn’t unusual for …

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Mel Toadvine's historic photos featured in Salisbury University exhibit

Longtime Daily Times photographer/editor enjoyed access to newsmakers

Posted

In the days when Mel Toadvine was Managing Editor of The Daily Times, where he worked in several capacities, from photographer to reporter to editor, from 1961 until 1996, it wasn’t unusual for U.S. Sen. Joe Biden to stop by and visit the Newsroom.

“Joe Biden told me, ‘Mel, it has crossed my mind to run for president someday.’ I said, ‘Would you write a letter and tell me why you would want to be president?’ I gave him stationery and I gave him a pen. He sat down and wrote a letter, four or five or six paragraphs. It’s packed up now, in boxes that are in my closet. He would come into the office from time to time and he became a friend,” Toadvine said about the current U.S. president during a recent, reminiscent telephone conversation from his home in Florida, where he is now retired.

Toadvine’s long and interesting career has been brought into focus -- and 40 of his hundreds of photographs on display --  at the show “Capturing the Times: The Photojournalism of Mel Toadvine,” which recently opened at the Guerrieri Academic Commons on the Salisbury University campus.

Free and open to the public, it will continue through the end of December.

Spanning four decades, the exhibit “features a collection of his award-winning photographs, including images documenting U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, when each visited the region,” according to SU promotional literature.

“I did get to meet a lot of impressive people and I did enjoy meeting them and talking to them on a person-to-person basis, like a friend,” Toadvine said.

“John Kennedy I did not meet but I took his picture. Gloria Richardson was a black leader in Cambridge. She was an activist. I was lucky to meet a lot of nice, good, important people. I met the governor of Virginia when he was married to Elizabeth Taylor. Just so many people. When I was at The Times and I became editor, people would come into the Newsroom and ask me to hire them and I would say as nicely as I could, ‘You have to know how to write.’ But I always tried to treat everybody like I wanted to be treated,” he said, as he recalled hiring The Daily Times’ first African-American reporter.

He was also the first editor in Maryland to put news articles on the Internet.

In the Newsroom, Toadvine was a mentor to young reporters, who always carried cameras and developed their own film in a darkroom, advising them to nurture a different way of looking at subjects they were about to photograph, a new angle, unique lighting, before snapping a picture, and often warned against grabbing snapshots instead of cultivating an eye for solid news photography.

Young reporters learned on the job in a bustling Newsroom and Toadvine, content to be squarely in the middle of it, made it clear his disliked misspellings and expected reporters to have a sharp news sense, to tell the story in pictures as well as in words.

A native of Wicomico County, he moved to Florida after leaving The Times and worked as editor of the Lehigh Acres Citizen until his retirement at age 77.

During his career at The Daily Times, he reported on and photographed the March 1962 storm from Ocean City as waves crashed over the Boardwalk and was awarded a citation for his photographs, many that are in his collection.

He photographed politicians including Spiro Agnew and Jimmy Carter, as well as local residents and community events.

He donated to the Nabb Center an extensive collection of photographs, negatives, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings that he collected while working for The Daily Times, plus, according to Nabb Center background information, details pertaining to the Toadvine family, a journal, letters of correspondence, accounting and financial information and legal documents. There are articles of incorporation and dissolution of the corporation of the News Publishing Company of Salisbury and memos and letters from managing editors concerning ideas for new marketing strategies in advertising and acquiring local news publishing companies in nearby towns.

Ian Post, Local History Archivist at the Nabb Research Center, called Toadvine’s photographs, which are being digitized, “just great.”

“We have these wonderful photos and we have had students helping digitize and create data for the online portion,” he said.

“We said, ‘This would be great to do an exhibit of some of his selected photographs,’” added Melinda McPeek, Curator of Exhibitions and Engagement at the Nabb Center.

“Many of the photos were taken during the Civil Rights movement. We were going to focus on that, then we decided to expand on that with a sampling of some of Mel’s political images as well, a few from a demonstration in Cambridge, demonstrations in front of a building in Cambridge,” she said.

About 40 pictures will be on display, but there are about 2,000.

“Mel won awards for the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm that hit Ocean City. There are some great photos from that, a lot of portraits, events, a lot of military police training photos. It’s a huge grab bag of local events, local visitors, and things that would have been used for The Daily Times. Salisbury University has a separate Daily Times collection and a lot of them are in that collection. It’s very appealing to the average person,” Post said, adding face masks will be required at the show, regardless of vaccination status. To get a free pass allowing parking on campus, register in advance at salisbury.edu/libraries/nabb or call 410-543-6312.

“There is such a range of images, so for the exhibit, since there are 2,000 photos, we kind of broke it down into categories like Civil Rights, Political Visits, Natural Disasters and In the Newsroom. There are some really cool pictures of groups of people working at The Daily Times. There’s a category on Scenes Around Salisbury and Working On Delmarva. There is something for everyone in these different categories. If you are interested in political material, if you remember what Salisbury looked like in the ’60s and ’70s,” McPeek said.

Post compared Toadvine’s photos to those published in coffee table books and said they also include images of cars, the Downtown Plaza and attractive lighting.

Toadvine photographed George Wallace, the Wicomico County Youth & Civic Center fire of 1977 and local leaders, including Charles Chipman.

“It’s great to have such an extensive collection of beautifully captured photos throughout a period of time in Salisbury when the surrounding area was really growing,” Post said.

“To have that and the major events in a lot of people’s memories, that will really ring home for them, bringing back some great memories.”