Leighton Mark, a photojournalist who taught himself to make pictures with one arm after he was wounded in 1984 while covering the civil war in Lebanon, has died. He was 67.
Mark died Saturday at Lexington Park Assisted Living Health Center in Topeka, Kansas, said a cousin, Monette Mark.
Mark worked for United Press International and The Associated Press during a long career that was nearly cut short when he was 32.
He had been in Beirut for UPI just three months when, in March 1984, gunfire from street fighting awoke him in his west Beirut apartment. After he stepped onto his balcony and began making pictures, a Druze militiaman sprayed him with automatic rifle fire. His shoulder bleeding, he managed to get into the hallway and find help.
“I remember seeing the AK go up, ducking — too slowly — screaming my head off in terror and bouncing off the wall,” he said in recounting the moment for a UPI story in 1987. “I almost came back in a body bag.”
UPI reported at the time that the militiaman who fired may have mistaken Mark’s camera for a weapon. The Druze militiamen allowed him to be taken to the American Hospital in Beirut. After surgery he was flown by U.S. Marine helicopter to a ship and eventually was transferred to the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans.
After a year of recuperation, Mark sought a way to continue his career. He told UPI that a former camera repairman for National Geographic had modified Mark’s equipment to accommodate one-handed shooting. Mark said he would hold the camera in the palm of his left hand and release the shutter with his little finger.
“I can pretty much do the same things I did before,” he told UPI. “I just do them a little differently than other shooters.”
UPI assigned Mark to its Washington bureau.
Mark later left UPI for The Associated Press, where he worked as a photo editor in the Washington bureau from 1997 until his retirement in October 2016.
“Leighton was the kind of photojournalist and editor we all want to emulate,” said David Ake, AP director of photography, “He was a kind and inquisitive soul who overcame personal obstacles with a spirit to succeed that was remarkable. And oh yes, he could make a great picture followed by yet another great picture.”
Leighton Doyle Mark was born Sept. 14, 1951, to Monte and Darlene Mark in Topeka. He graduated from Washburn University and later worked for a newspaper in Independence, Missouri.
He joined UPI in 1981 and worked on its photo desk in Brussels and as its bureau manager for the pictures department in Johannesburg, South Africa, before being assigned to Beirut in December 1983. That was less than two months after the suicide truck bombing of Marines Corps barracks that killed 241 military personnel and wounded many more.
Survivors include an aunt, Dorothy Mark. A memorial service was planned for Feb. 9 in Topeka.