Charles Norris `Scorchy' Tawes

[Age 86] The `subdued but colorful' photographer used his TV show to chronicle life on the Delmarva Peninsula.

February 01, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Charles Norris "Scorchy" Tawes, a former roving reporter and photographer for WBOC-TV who traveled the back roads, villages and towns of the Delmarva Peninsula recording the life stories of the folks he met along the way, died Monday of cardiovascular disease at the Alice Byrd Tawes Nursing Home in Crisfield. He was 86.

Mr. Tawes was an accomplished fisherman, and the Scorchy Tawes Pro-Am Fishing Tournament was named after him.

He began his television career in 1975 at WBOC in Salisbury, giving an outdoors and fishing report. The thrice-weekly report allowed Mr. Tawes, who got the nickname "Scorchy" as a kid when the hot summer sun bleached his hair, to travel from "Kiptopeake to Kent County, Bridgeville to Blackwater," in search of material, reported The Sun in 2002.

His storytelling abilities caught the attention of WBOC officials, and soon Mr. Tawes was writing, reporting and producing stories on people and places he had encountered on his Delmarva journeys for a new show, Scorchy's Corner, which started in 1977, quickly becoming a popular Monday-night feature.

By the time he retired in 1998 because of failing health, he had produced and filmed more than 2,000 segments for Scorchy's Corner.

"I've known Scorchy for 50 years, and he was one of the first individuals I met when I first started going over to the Eastern Shore. He was easygoing and very laid-back," said Bill Burton, retired Evening Sun columnist and outdoor editor.

"He was a very subdued but colorful individual who was interested in people. And he had a way of bringing the Eastern Shore to folks so they could understand it," Mr. Burton said yesterday. "He was like Garrison Keillor and I think probably the most popular guy on the Lower Eastern Shore. His television shows were a must."

"He's part Charles Kuralt, part Mark Twain," reported Chesapeake Magazine in its current issue, and went on to praise him as "one of the Chesapeake's great storytellers."

Mr. Tawes concluded each show with the hope that viewers had enjoyed another installment of "wandering this Delmarvelous land."

Mr. Tawes' work earned him many awards, including several from the Associated Press. In 2004, he was given an Emmy, the Ted Yates Award, that was presented to him by the Chesapeake Bay chapter of the National Television Academy at a ceremony in Washington.

"I had the best job in the world," Mr. Tawes said in the 2002 Sun article. "I had air time assigned to me, nobody told me what to do, when to work, when to go home. Even the owners of the station never knew what I was doing until it went on the air."

"Scorchy was an amazing fellow who had a lot of attributes. He was really good at interviewing people and phrasing questions to get the information he wanted. He wasn't like most reporters; he could put people at ease and draw them out," said George Tawes, a distant cousin and owner of J.P. Tawes & Brother, a Crisfield hardware and mercantile store.

In addition to his TV work, Mr. Tawes was an accomplished self-taught photographer who began photographing and chronicling life on the Delmarva Peninsula with an old-fashioned Kodak folding camera after World War II.

In the intervening 60 years, he amassed a photographic record of Crisfield and Delmarva history -- people, weddings, landscapes, Chesapeake Bay country scenes -- that filled his home, along with logbooks and newspaper clippings.

Mr. Tawes recorded the arrival of the civil rights Freedom Riders in the 1960s to the Eastern Shore and also took pictures of the Chesapeake Bay when it was frozen solid during the winters of 1958, 1968 and 1977.

"It wasn't meant to be art," he told The Sun. "It was history."

Mr. Tawes later sold his Nikons and large-format Hasselblads and learned to use digital cameras.

He also compiled an extensive collection of images of Steve and Lem Ward, Crisfield carvers whose work is prized by collectors.

Mr. Tawes' photos have been published in Ducks Unlimited magazine, the Ford Times and Delaware Today, as well as other publications. He also was a stringer for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"He was still active until about 14 months ago," said a son, Charles Norris "Butch" Tawes Jr. of Crisfield.

Mr. Tawes was born and raised in Crisfield, where his father owned and operated the Kozy Korner Restaurant. He was a 1936 graduate of Crisfield High School. During World War II, he served in the infantry with George S. Patton's 3rd Army and fought at the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, he worked in his father's restaurant until opening Scorchy's, a restaurant on Crisfield's Main Street, in 1957. After selling the restaurant in the early 1960s, he managed Somer Cove Marina in Crisfield before becoming a photographer and public relations manager for Rubberset, a division of Sherwin-Williams Co., a Crisfield manufacturer of paint brushes.

During the 1940s, Mr. Tawes played first base for the Crisfield Vets baseball team and was later inducted into the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame. He worked to establish Little League baseball and Biddie League basketball teams.

Mr. Tawes was also a respected fisherman. "He was a damn good fisherman and a founder of the old Crisfield Striped Bass Club," Mr. Burton said.

An accomplished musician, Mr. Tawes had played string bass in two local orchestras.

His wife of 66 years, the former Jean Adams, died in 2005.

He was a member of Immanuel United Methodist Church in Crisfield, where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.

Also surviving are another son, Timothy E. Tawes of Marion, Somerset County; two daughters, Patricia A. Gray of Salisbury and Jeannie Hanke of Marion; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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