A smart, witty man with two cameras always hanging from his neck— this is how many would describe Ralph Norman Fountain, a long-time Review-Journal photographer who died in September.
He had a pacemaker replacement surgery in September and though it went well, he had a stroke afterward and passed away Sept. 29. Fountain was 68 years old.
Fountain’s sister, Kay Aurand, said he had been having some health problems, but nothing very serious. Many of his long-time friends didn’t know there was a problem at all, aside from the original pacemaker he received two years ago.
Born in Louisiana on April 7, 1945, Fountain had an “incredible intelligence,” as his little sister phrased it. He was a member of Mensa, an organization for people with an IQ in the top two percentile of the population.
Fountain used those smarts to become a high school science teacher in 1968. He had always liked to travel, and one year took the opportunity to teach abroad in Australia.
While he was there, he took another opportunity, one that would change the course of his life: a photography class.
Fountain extended his stay for six months to delve into photography, which also got him exploring the outdoors. When he came back from Australia, Fountain became a regular visitor of Big Bend National Park in Texas after he quit teaching and began working for area newspapers.
When he moved to Las Vegas with his wife Antoinette “Annette” Caramia to work for the Review-Journal in 1989, he couldn’t get enough of the Nevada desert, either. The couple, who divorced amicably some years later and remained friends until she died in 2008, often camped and hiked together.
“He just never stopped exploring,” said Aurand. Many friends would agree with that sentiment, pointing out that Fountain could tell you about any animal or plant species in the valley after only one glance. Aurand recalled that her brother could identify a mountain range just by looking at one photo of it.
“Hiking with Ralph was like traveling with an animated Audubon guide,” said Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith.
Fountain photographed land in his personal time and people during his work time. Fred Beeman, a friend of Fountain for over 20 years through Mensa, remembers the astounding number of famous people Fountain photographed.
And Fountain kept it all documented, both the work photos and personal ones, in photo albums.
Beeman recalls teasing Fountain about shooting with a Nikon camera.
“He would get one of these perplexed looks on his face and roll his eyes heavenward,” Beeman said. This rings true with Fountain’s sense of humor— he wasn’t a laugh-out-loud kind of guy, but more subtle and dry with a British ring to his humor.
One fun contradiction to that part of his personality began about a year before Fountain died. He took up the new hobby of singing karaoke. Among his favorites was “Peggy Sue.”
Fountain retired from the Review-Journal in 2011, after working there for 22 years.
A memorial service hasn’t taken place yet, but would soon in Louisiana. In the meantime, some of his family and friends gathered at a bar Review-Journal employees frequent for different occasions to commemorate him and raised a glass to an intense and talented man.