DeRidder native awarded Pulitzer Prize

Reported by Britney Glaser

September 11, 2006

September 11th will now hold a special meaning for one DeRidder native. Irwin Thompson, a DeRidder High School graduate with the class of 1979 can remember his days on the high school's yearbook staff.  Now, Thompson works as a senior staff photographer with the Dallas Morning News. Thompson has taken his love for photography around the world and recently clinched the top award for excellence in photography. Thompson visited his alma mater today, where he spoke to hundreds of students about achieving his dream and winning the Pulitzer Prize.

When Hurricane Katrina was making her way toward the Louisiana coast, Thompson was given the assignment of photographing the storm.  He never knew just how challenging this assignment would be.  "It was incredibly surreal.  You couldn't believe that it was happening in the United States," recalled Thompson. "I was taking pictures...and you don't ask people their names until after you get the pictures, but the people were so overwhelmed by what they were going through, that really...they didn't even see me."

Thompson's images have been able to tell the world the true story of struggle and recovery for New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, and his work has rewarded him with the top honor, a Pulitzer Prize.  Thompson said, "It hasn't soaked in yet.  It's mind boggling. That's something I never really thought of.  As a photojournalist you do your job, and if you work hard those things will come to you...I still don't believe it."

DeRidder Mayor Ron Roberts took notice of Thompson's huge accomplishment and decided to give him a historical honor in the city.  September 11th in DeRidder is now known as "Irwin Thompson Day."  "I'm still saying 'wow,' said Thompson, " because you know the mayor and his staff have worked hard on 'Irwin Thompson Day' and I've been smiling all day and I'll be smiling on my way back to Dallas today.  It's just an incredible feeling."

Much like the images of Hurricane Katrina that won't be forgotten, neither will Thompson's story. With a key to the city and a day named in his honor, his story in DeRidder will live on.

Thompson told the students at DeRidder High School, "Chase your dreams. If you can believe it, you can achieve it, so just go for it."

Thompson's photos are on display at the DeRidder City Hall.