Richard Loehle, 87, a master of illustration and portraiture

Over a career that spanned more than half a century, Richard Loehle tried various forms of art -- magazine and book illustration, cartooning, landscape painting, portraiture -- and his talent never failed him.

Mr. Loehle, 87, of Decatur died of cancer Monday at Odyssey Health Care, Decatur. His family plans a gathering of friends from 2 to 5 p.m. March 5 at the Leafmore Creek Park clubhouse, 1373 Altamont Drive, Decatur. A.S. Turner & Sons funeral home is in charge of arrangements.

Betty Loehle said she and her husband-to-be met before World War II when they were students at the Harris School of Art in Nashville. With the outbreak of war, he went into the U.S. Army Air Corps and served as a cartographer based in China. In 1948 the two were married and settled in Chicago, where they lived for 19 years.

During that period he did many illustrations for school books and a variety of magazines.

"The post-war period was the heyday for illustrators because magazines weren't using photographs nearly as much as they do now, and Dad took advantage of that," said Alan Loehle of Decatur, himself an artist and director of the art program at Oglethorpe University.

"Dad did some pretty wild cover illustrations for pulp science-fiction publications like Amazing Stories," his son said. Mr. Loehle was a regular contributor of drawings to Reader's Digest as well.

For the school book illustrations, Mr. Loehle often used his own children and their friends as models. "That made for interesting show-and-tell periods at school -- when we could identify ourselves in the drawings in our textbooks," said another son, Craig Loehle of Naperville, Ill.

One of the magazines in which Mr. Loehle's work appeared was Playboy, including the first issue. He had met Hugh Hefner when the latter was an editor at Esquire magazine and was sought out by Mr. Hefner to draw cartoons for Playboy.

As time went on, her husband grew weary of Chicago winters, Mrs. Loehle said. He also found he no longer needed to locate in the immediate vicinity of publishers since he was mailing most of his work out of town. "He told me, ‘I can work anywhere,' and so we decided in 1967 to return to the South, and settled on the Atlanta area," she said.

One of his steady clients here was Brown's Guide to Georgia. Its editor and publisher, Fred Brown of Peachtree City, said Mr. Loehle "had a genius for illustration. He did marvelous covers for our magazine, showing a range of outdoor activities -- fishing, canoeing, horseback riding and the like."

In the latter part of his career, Mr. Loehle did many portraits, including 60 paintings of inductees into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in Warner Robins. He also arranged commissions, through a Birmingham firm, to do portraits of clients throughout the Southeast.

Dr. Frank Bell of Decatur said Mr. Loehle painted splendid portraits of him, his wife and their two daughters. "Richard had a unique ability to paint a flattering yet realistic likeness. He didn't cover up imperfections, but still nobody ever complained, ‘That doesn't look like me,'" Dr. Bell said.

Mr. Loehle's favorite diversion was tennis, and he played competitively into his 80s. As late as 2004, he was ranked No. 1 in Georgia in his age group. "He and his partner used to enjoy telling their opponents after a doubles match that they had been beaten by an octogenarian," Mrs. Loehle said.

Survivors also include a daughter, Lynn Bell of Little Rock; another son, Bruce Loehle-Conger of River Falls, Wis.; a sister, Peggy Rafter of Union City; and six grandchildren.