Valé Lee Pegus

Graeme Murdoch
Swellnet Dispatch

Back in the ‘90s, before the interwebs and all things digital, the process of sourcing photos for a surf mag was a tactile affair. Pics weren’t hurled through cyberspace in pixel form, instead, images travelled as delicate, fragile transparencies (‘trannies’), couriered across land and sea from photographers far and near, to land on the OCD-level-tidy desk of Lee Pegus, Australia's Surfing Life’s lovely and affable photo editor.

In this age of infinite imagery, when everyone can take amazing pics with their phones, it’s hard to imagine this era, where you could only get 36 shots off swimming at Pipe before heading back to the beach to reload film etc, then not even see the results of your work until the film had been processed at a lab.

What this all meant is that the trannies that made their way to and from ASL’s Burleigh office were incredibly precious things. Literally irreplaceable.

‘Pego’, or ‘Sultan’ as he was known, understood this – being a photographer himself – he ‘got’ the photographers, he had incredible rapport with them, and the care he took with their transparencies was astonishing. “Pego’d send me back three of my shitty slides and they’d be wrapped up like Tutankhamun’s jewels or something,” recalls photographer Shane Peel, “It’d take me twenty minutes to get through all the layers, and then he’d be on the phone making sure I got ‘em back safely. Unbelievable.”

Pego sorting through the Surfing Life archives in 2012

It was these simple acts of caring, Pego’s willingness to get on the phone and connect with photographers and the genuine admiration – almost adoration – he had for these artists, that persuaded many of the world’s best surf photographers to send their work to ASL ahead of other titles. Here’s what a few of the best in the game posted on social media on hearing Pego had passed.

“No photo editor ever fought harder for his tribe than Lee. I wish we could all be as selfless and dedicated as the Sultan. He always had time, he always had praise, he always gave everything.” – John Bilderback

“Lee was responsible for getting me over to ASL from Tracks Magazine in the late ’90s. I said no about fifty times but he was so persistently nice he finally convinced me into doing it. He was such a gentle soul and a great photo editor as well.” – Billy Morris

“The Sultan taught me so, so much over the years.” – Nate Smith

“He was SO supportive of all of us surf photographers. I would have changed magazines to keep him as my editor.” – Sean Davey

“Pego was like a father figure, and treated us all like family.” – Jason Childs

Lee grew up surfing in Manly. He started his working life at the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, snuck into the photography department, then started shooting the beach and the surf. He joined ASL, pretty much by osmosis, as photo editor in the late ‘80s, and was in the role until 2004. In 2012 he came back for a grand cameo appearance, sorting through the archived (and archaic) trannie files to return them to legions of grateful photographers.

Pego was never happier than putting a few carousels together for Surfing Life’s semi-regular Friday slide nights through the ‘90s. He’d spend hours beforehand, getting the mix right – a few old favourites mixed in with the latest submissions, and a few ‘human interest’ pics from the Hank file, and after 5.00pm, when the beers were cracked and the shades pulled down on the windows of the Old Burleigh Theatre Arcade, Pego drove the carousels through the projector like some kind of avuncular DJ, with a few pre-planned one-liners of commentary to deliver to the crowd. This was the Big Dog completely and utterly in his element, where persona and person synched perfectly, and you’ve not seen a more fulfilled bloke.

Lee was a fair bit older than us twenty-something kids who put the mag together. By the time the mag was humming in the ‘90s, he’d been through a marriage and was surfing only very rarely, if at all, but despite the differences in experience, he was central to the team – an unlikely planet around which the editorial and creative teams spun. Pego was daggy and naïve in many ways, but also the most considerate fella you could know, the kind of guy who’d remember your birthday and get you a card and a pressie. No-one did that in the Lost Boys clubs that was ASL. Pego was uniquely kind-hearted.

Some of us got closer to Pego than others: Epic editor Jimmy O’Keefe formed an enduring friendship with Pego, as did Ted Grambeau and Karen Green, and these three found themselves carrying the sad secret of Lee’s cancer diagnosis over the past year.

You see, Pego always had a different, puzzling, way of thinking about things. He was so expansive and open, yet so guarded and vulnerable, that he would make baffling choices in his life. The fella who’d take so much care with other people’s work didn’t always direct that same prudence to his own stuff. It drove mates like Ted (who looked out for Lee like no-one else) around the twist, but Pego was his own man, and though you wanted to shake the stubborn bastard sometimes, you loved him to bits all the same.

One of Pego’s choices was to not let anyone know he was dying, and he pushed back hard when Jimmy, Ted, or Kaz suggested that a whole lot of people would love to say g’day, goodbye, thanks for everything, and let The Sultan know just what a kind, big-hearted man he was and what he meant to them. Pego’s argument against this was a fear his landlord would find out and it would compromise his tenancy. There was more to it of course, privacy, independence etc, but the landlord logic was typical of Pego, and there was no point arguing with the Big Dog once he had made his mind up.

And so Lee chose to see himself out, despite being loved and respected and admired by so many.

I mentioned that Pego had kinda given up surfing by the ‘90s and back then we idiot kids assumed his tales of surfing glory back in the day were embellished. Nonetheless we chipped in and got him a longboard for his 50th birthday in the hope of getting him back into the waves. Pego joined us only once on our customary lunchtime sesh across the road at 5th Ave Burleigh. He didn’t catch a wave –  always in the wrong spot, and the mal didn’t quite have enough volume.

I wrote the longboard pressie off as a nice idea that wasn’t gonna take – and it didn’t take – but just as I was heading back up the path to the esplanade, I looked back and saw Pego jag a whitewater closeout. I’ll never forget locking eyes on the perfect style and poise of an extremely accomplished surfer, as a small part of the greatly loved, never solved puzzle that is Pego fell nicely into place.

// GRA MURDOCH

Comments

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 11:57am

Beautiful words Gra. Vale Lee. 

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 12:23pm

I always loved those ASL mags and remember his name as a trigger for good feelings. Never knew you but wish you well... See ya Mr Pegus.

Nice obituary too. We should all be so lucky to have someone send us off so well.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 1:17pm

Vale.

Tim Bonython's picture
Tim Bonython's picture
Tim Bonython commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 1:31pm

Having rubbed shoulders with Lee for many years at many locations i am very surprised & upset to read this. Lee was always great to talk to and will miss him dearly. He was one of the greats. RIP Lee you legend!

Tim Baker's picture
Tim Baker's picture
Tim Baker commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 1:48pm

Beautifully put Gra, fuck, makes me miss him even more though and rail at the fact we didn't get to say good bye. No one will ever care as much about a surf photo as Lee did ever again.

Tim Fisher's picture
Tim Fisher's picture
Tim Fisher commented Thursday, 9 May 2019 at 8:53pm

Amen.

Danno67's picture
Danno67's picture
Danno67 commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 4:55pm

As a kid in the mid 80's Lee was a real fixture in the lives of me and my little brother Sam as we went from comp to comp and during free surf sessions. Lee would be in the water ... "do an air Dan". 30+ years later I'm still bummed that I couldn't do an air for Lee. RIP Lee.

david 24's picture
david 24's picture
david 24 commented Thursday, 2 May 2019 at 5:48pm

Vale Lee , a man who held himself with grace and humour

macca24

Baron von Spatula's picture
Baron von Spatula's picture
Baron von Spatula commented Friday, 3 May 2019 at 8:09am

Lee was a gem amongst stones. A true Gentleman.
Nice words Gra.
RIP Lee.

Rob Hutchinson's picture
Rob Hutchinson's picture
Rob Hutchinson commented Friday, 3 May 2019 at 8:42am

Lee was always so friendly, caring and supportive. Very sad to hear of his passing. He was also THE best photo editor going and a key to ASL's early success.
RIP Pego

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 3 May 2019 at 11:21am

Here's further proof of Pego's affable nature and professional diligence, from photographer Greg Button:

Graeme Murdoch's picture
Graeme Murdoch's picture
Graeme Murdoch commented Friday, 3 May 2019 at 11:29am

Thanks for that Stu! Beautiful reminder mate.

shauntomson1's picture
shauntomson1's picture
shauntomson1 commented Friday, 3 May 2019 at 11:36am

Touching words Gra - a sad loss.
Crossed paths with Lee when Burleigh was the place to be. Always smooth and smiling and with a gentlemen's graciousness and warmth. He'll be missed.

Sandsy's picture
Sandsy's picture
Sandsy commented Saturday, 4 May 2019 at 8:31pm

Beautifully said Gra, really sad news, nothing but fond memories of Pego. Staunchly protective of any new trannies that arrived at the MMS offices, a smiling yet firm gatekeeper, shooing us sales guys away until the editorial team had plucked the cream....RIP Pego, a top bloke!

Laurelle's picture
Laurelle's picture
Laurelle commented Monday, 6 May 2019 at 11:00am

Thank you Graham

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Thursday, 9 May 2019 at 4:41pm

Beautifully told and scribed, thanks Gra.

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.

spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack commented Thursday, 9 May 2019 at 5:39pm

A great tribute to Pego . . . he was clearly a really decent bloke. The world needs more of them. Vale.

Stay salty

original smith's picture
original smith's picture
original smith commented Friday, 10 May 2019 at 5:16pm

Aloha Sultan...you beautiful human.
Braddo : )

* Lovely words Gra...

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Saturday, 11 May 2019 at 8:43pm

Didn't know the guy, but I am really scared of Death and he was really good at taking shots of life, it seems.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Saturday, 11 May 2019 at 8:46pm

I will not die.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 14 May 2019 at 6:00pm

Don’t be scared .

You’ve died before . You’ll die again .

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 14 May 2019 at 5:56pm

Surf World Gold Coast is organising the Lee Pegus Slide Night.

Info and tix here: https://www.facebook.com/events/300351054220981/

Lindyloo's picture
Lindyloo's picture
Lindyloo commented Monday, 3 Jun 2019 at 5:22pm

I wanted to Give Lee Pegus a blast from the past.  Alas, I am too late!  I was his 1st girlfriend.  We grew up together.  He was my neighbour across the road at Dundas Valley.  His Dad used to take us to a beach, where I would sit on the sand and watch him surf.  Then we would go home again. (They were innocent days)   We should have been westies but Lee could not help himself.  He loved to surf.  He and his Mum and Dad moved to Surfers Paradise when he was 16.  I flew to Surfers to see him 6 months later but already the spark had died for both of us.   I sat and watched him touch up photos for The Herald,, so it's no wonder that he was a top class photographer.   My surfing  brother in law showed me a few photos in "Surfing Life" that Lee had taken, so I knew he would have lots of friends and admirers. Good on you Lee, and Vale to my 1st Love.