Portraits from The Washington Post, 1981

Ron Artest. Arturo Gatti. Star Jones. Alex Trebek. Constance Bishop.

When The Washington Post published its Sept. 1, 1981, feature on next-big-thing high society, none of them were household names — yet.

They were Michael Williams, a then-33-year-old National Geographic staffer from Laurel, Md., who had been covering such proceedings since 1979.

As his Ghandi story said, Williams chose to highlight Williamsburg because it was so far from Washington and crowded with interesting characters that at first he did not know what to do with them.

“This is rich country. I want to take a look at this,” he said he told a photographer. “I want to go and see that set where all the children talk to each other. I want to see the quadrangle.”

Later, in his story, he said he realized that the style of his story would be more interesting if he “took a wider lens, the way some photographers take pictures from behind.”

He did it with a couple of shots that earned him the 1982 Washington Press Club award for photo of the year. It was, after all, the year they named the championship basketball game the “Cinderella.”

A second series of Ghandi stories was published in 1981-82. Another two-page article appeared in 1982. Williams said in a phone interview this week that he didn’t plan on doing a “lots of stories” about the country, just those of “Interesting Characters.”

“It just kind of kept snowballing. It had the much better title,” he said.

Williams said the three print photos that drew the most attention on that list of intriguing people were the original portraits he took of Jones and Trebek.

Then, in 1984, came “Hello Gregory” and “Raoul on the Potomac.”

As interest in the stories kept growing, along with his successes on the road, Williams worked for that year as the first photographer to be featured on an out-of-office page in The Post’s regular print edition.

He also established a reputation as a good researcher — and as a decent interviewer — in a fairly obscure series called “The Road to the White House.”

His next win of one of the Press Club awards came in the spring of 1989. He was given another one in the summer of 1990 for his “Very Beantown” story about a series of FBI raids on the homes of Boston crime figures who had fled the area after the 1980 murder of a respected professor.

Finally, in 1992, Williams showed up in a story called “It’s Showtime for Tom Douglas,” and hit the right notes with a story about a Thursday night skit at a Great Falls nightclub.

Some of the people he covered would be a part of history a few years later. Jones’s honeymoon lasted only two nights. Artest’s controversial suit helped lead to him being banned for life from the NBA.

But Williams’ photos showed them at their high-energy best. So did his interviews.

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