The essence of mentorship remains timeless, but let’s refresh these insights with contemporary tips:

Photo by: Bill Bangham

Don Rutledge epitomized the essence of mentoring through his three treasures: mercy, frugality, and humility. These principles continue to resonate in mentorship today. Master Po’s wisdom rings true: “Not in memory, but in deeds.”

Great mentors inspire through their actions, just as the young boy sought wisdom from his master in Kung Fu. Being open to learning and embracing criticism are still foundational to gaining knowledge from a mentor.

I was privileged to observe Don Rutledge mentor many individuals while working near his office. His experience as a staff photographer for Black Star and his global coverage for Christian magazines offered invaluable lessons.

Soon after joining the Home (now North American) Mission Board, Don Rutledge spent weeks covering the daily lives of Alaskan Eskimos above the Arctic Circle. Here, a family waits for visitors to arrive at their home. [Photo by: Don Rutledge}

One defining moment was watching Don during his six-week stint inside the Arctic Circle in 1967. His ability to connect with people was remarkable, like the Eskimo family he photographed. He made time for everyone, sharing advice and industry contacts generously.

I, too, sought Don’s guidance, but the most valuable lessons came when he invited me to join him on shoots. Watching him work firsthand, assisting occasionally, provided unparalleled insights into the craft.

As a black man, John Howard Griffin was shoe-shining for a white man in New Orleans in 1955. [photo by: Don Rutledge]

Don’s approach to photography was unique. He engaged subjects in casual conversations that doubled as interviews, all while his cameras remained aside. It was a masterclass in listening, learning, and capturing the essence of a story.

Post-shoot, our discussions were enlightening. Reviewing contact sheets together was a privilege few seized. Most sought guidance for their work alone, missing out on understanding his process.

Don Rutledge enjoys telling a story at the first gathering of the SBC photographers at Ridgecrest, North Carolina

Finding a mentor entails seeking someone whose work and personality you admire. Regularly sharing your work for feedback, observing their work, and assisting them are keys to learning. Building a genuine, lifelong relationship matters more than using it solely for career advancement. And reciprocate by mentoring others.

Learning about Don Rutledge through my uncle’s experiences had a profound impact. Don’s influence on my uncle’s photography resonated so profoundly that I knew him before we met.

Flies and dust crust the eyes of a mother and her baby as she struggles through the jagged, parched Ethiopian highlands hoping to find food and medicine for her child at the Southern Baptist feeding and health care center at Rabel. Her husband died along the way. [Photo by: Don Rutledge]

My master’s thesis on Don Rutledge became a transformative journey. Today, I teach at colleges and workshops, embodying Don’s willingness to assist anyone. Don showed me that giving back is not just necessary but immensely rewarding. In giving, we receive abundantly.

Mentorship remains a timeless art—a give-and-take that enriches the mentor and the mentee. Don Rutledge’s legacy continues through the lives he touched, fostering a tradition of generosity, humility, and learning that transcends generations.