Former Newsday photojournalist Thomas Koeniges was famous among his colleagues for always keeping cool under pressure, a trait never more evident than in his final days.
Koeniges, 87, who suffered a brain hemorrhage, made friends with the first responders Feb. 5 as he rode in an ambulance to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore. Instead of asking about his own condition, Koeniges wanted to know where those who came to his aid were from and whether they liked their jobs.
At the hospital, Koeniges made sure to comfort his wife of 58 years, Kay.
“He told me I looked beautiful. I told him he looked better than I did,” said Kay Koeniges, who gushed about the broad but gentle 6-1 photographer’s knack for blending into the background to get the perfect shot.
“He was my heartbeat,” she said.
Thomas Koeniges, an award-winning photographer and family man, died on Thursday due to respiratory distress.
He was born in the Bronx in 1930, the youngest of three siblings. By the age of 3, his father was gone and his mother had died of pneumonia. Koeniges and his older brother and sister were then raised by an aunt.
Koeniges eventually joined the Marines before being shipped off to Korea.
When Koeniges returned home, he took classes at several colleges, including New York University, Fordham, Syracuse and the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.
He got a job in the photo lab at Look magazine and it wasn’t long before he made staff photographer. He’d travel all over, covering war zones and celebrities.
When the magazine folded, Koeniges joined Newsday as a staff photographer. He covered George H.W. Bush at his presidential inauguration; Cheryl Pierson, a high school cheerleader from Selden who paid a classmate to kill her sexually abusive father; and the death of a 13-year-old Valley Stream girl strangled by her neighbor Robert Golub.
Koeniges’ daughter was 20 when he brought her to Golub’s arraignment.
“He knew everyone in there, the reporters, the court people, everybody,” said Kathy DeSimone, 51, of her father, adding how she marveled at how he charmed people into photographs. “He said you have to make people feel comfortable. He had that personality where he could do that.”
Koeniges had also earned the respect of his colleagues.
“He was a very honest and effective guy,” said Bruce Lambert, 74, a former Newsday and New York Times reporter. “He always wanted to do the right thing. He’s like the gold standard for doing the right thing.”
Koeniges retired from Newsday in 1995. He enjoyed traveling with his wife and playing tennis.
“My life will never be the same. We did everything together,” Kay Koeniges said. “We just had the most wonderful life and I’m grateful for those memories.”
Besides his wife and DeSimone of Bay Shore, Koeniges is survived by his three grandchildren, Stephen, 21, Thomas, 19, and Katie, 15.
A wake is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Chapey and Sons Funeral Home in West Islip. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph’s Church in Babylon.