Longtime Augusta residents know Robert Symms for his work as a portrait photographer who specialized in weddings and children’s photography.
Before that, he went to work with Morgan Fitz in late 1949 and soon found himself working as a news photographer who had the opportunity to photograph President Eisenhower on numerous occasions.
“They would go out to Bush Field and the word would be out that he was arriving,” said Symms, 81. “There would be huge crowds. People lined up along the fence. Security was nothing like it was today, but it was open and there was a fence between them and the plane.”
After Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election, he flew to Augusta on a commercial plane. Symms was there to photograph the event, and he often went to Augusta National to cover the president.
“We would go out on the golf course to photograph them around the clubhouse and you’d see all these golfers out there with clubs,” Symms said. “Come to find out, they weren’t golfers – they were Secret Service. They had their guns, their radios and everything else in the golf bags.”
One of Symms’ favorite photographs is one he took of Eisenhower and his wife shortly after Augusta National members had built a cabin for them.
“I sent them a number of the prints and they had it matted, then autographed it and returned it to me framed just like this,” Symms said. “I was very proud to have that and the fact they were able to do that and return it to me.”
One thing Symms didn’t care for was how Augusta National Chairman Clifford Roberts would order the president around.
“Back in those days Cliff Roberts ruled. It upset a lot of us to hear Cliff speaking to Ike,” Symms said. “He’d go, ‘Ike, come over here!’ We’d think, ‘That’s the president of the United States.’ But Roberts and some of the other big Republicans pushed him and got him to run for office.”
Symms had served as an entertainer for USO camp shows in the early 1950s, and his specialty was record pantomime for comedy routines. After Eisenhower’s presidency was over, Symms was asked to perform
at Augusta National one night in the early 1960s.
“There was a big long table and Mamie was at other end and Ike was at this end,” Symms said.
“I started and Ike had his back to me, and after I got started Ike turned his head around, then he turned around and looked again. I said, ‘Oh my Lord.’ Then he got up and I said, ‘Oh gosh, what’s going to happen?’ He got up, picked up his chair and turned it around with his back to his friends and sat there on the front row with me entertaining him. When I got through, he came up and congratulated me and said he enjoyed it.”