Former editor, photog dies

Published 10:25 pm Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A former editor of the Suffolk News-Herald died earlier this month at the age of 69.

Michael Kestner, who went on to work as a photojournalist at the Virginian-Pilot, passed away Sept. 18 at his home in Saltville, said his daughter, Carolyn Kestner.

“He was brilliant,” Kestner said of her father. “He was the smartest person I ever met, and I’m not just saying that because he was my dad.”

Email newsletter signup

Kestner got his start in newspapers at the age of 14. The family legend goes that Kestner saw an ad in the paper for a Ducati motorcycle for sale in the Kingsport, Tenn. Supposedly, the boy with the motorcycle would only sell it if the buyer took on his paper route.

Kestner got the motorcycle and the paper route, but when his mother saw how the teenaged Kestner would have to reach into the paper bag and then sling the paper with one hand while controlling the motorcycle with the other, she decided to drive the youngster in her station wagon while he delivered papers.



That soon got old for the teenager, and his mother was alone was delivering papers. That was the end of the paper route.

Kestner went on to graduate from Tennessee Military Institute. He did two tours in Vietnam and then attended East Tennessee State University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a double major in English and journalism.

Eventually, he was back in newspapers at the Suffolk News-Herald. Carolyn Kestner remembers spending time in the darkroom here with her father.

“He did it until he got it perfect,” she said. “I remember being with him in the darkroom there in Suffolk, and he was redoing it and trying to get it just right.”

But in the latter part of his career, he mourned the loss of the art of photography.

“In the end, when they did away with the darkrooms and all the cameras went digital, he struggled with that,” she said. “He felt like that took the art out of it.”

Kestner took his task as a photojournalist seriously, Carolyn Kestner said.

“From what he chose to do as a career, he saw people at their most fragile and also at their finest moments, so he had a real foundation of what human nature was like,” she said. “He could really express somebody’s inner being through a photo.”

Two of his more memorable photo subjects were Wolfman Jack, a famous disc jockey, and Alex Haley, the author of the historical novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”

When he wasn’t working for the newspaper, Kestner enjoyed caring for his cats. He was so fond of calling all children “wild child” that it became his own nickname.

And he still liked motorcycles.

Carolyn Kestner said she plans a Suffolk memorial service in the future, perhaps in November.