He was one of eight children of Greek immigrant parents in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. He got his start in World War II. He was a World War II Marine combat veteran, where he shot bomb damage pictures of South Pacific island caves. Before the war he had never even held a camera before. He was married to Barbara Vathis and had three children Victoria, Randy, and Stephanie. He died at age 77 in his home.
He joined the AP in Philadelphia, in 1946; he spent most of his career at the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania bureau of the AP, starting in 1952.
In 1962, he took a picture of President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower walking together at Camp David. He covered such events as Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point basketball game in 1962, where he originally was just taking his son Randy to see a game, and the Budd Dwyer suicide in 1987 at the Harrisburg capitol building. In 1979, he helped cover the nation's worst nuclear power accident at Three Mile Island.  He died in 2002 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
- Peter Jackson (December 11, 2002). "Obituary: Paul Vathis / Associated Press photographer for more than 50 years". The Associated Press.
- "Paul Vathis, 77, Photographer Who Won a Pulitzer Prize". The New York Times. December 11, 2002.
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