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Hail and farewell Robert de Gast

Yesterday my father died in his sleep from cancer. He lived a good and worthwhile life. He was a photographer, writer, reader, sailor, pilot, intellectual, tutor, and adventurer. He was 79, the atomic number for gold.

His health began to decline rapidly in November, but he was well cared for, never in pain, and never afraid. He left this world with a great feeling of appreciation for a life well-lived. I can safely say he was liked, appreciated, and admired by many people.

Some of the things on his list of advice were: always bring something to read with you, never hit anybody, and, if you lie, you add to the confusion of the world.

His philosophy was … the best life is a simple life and habit can make it easiest.

At the end he quoted Vonnegut with sadness but a sense of peace, too …. “So it goes” … three simple words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything.

I will miss him so.

Sabrina de Gast Glaeser

He was quick to catch errors

The editorial staff of Atención regrets the loss of former colleague, Robert de Gast. A lecturer, writer, and photographer of some repute, Robert shared his talents with our volunteer proofreading staff for many years. Robert’s English grammar, spelling, and usage were impeccable, and he was quick to catch errors that put even native English speakers, English majors, and teachers to shame. Robert was a fixture around La Biblioteca. Generous with his time, he lectured frequently to visitors and locals alike about the quirky and quaint in his beloved San Miguel. He also wrote several colorful books including his photographs that put the spotlight on the loveliness of this town.

Pat Frey, Copy Editor, Atención

The man who opened the doors of San Miguel

For me, Robert de Gast will be remembered as the man who opened the doors of San Miguel, who taught me to look at the handles and door knockers, savor the textures of the wood, and wonder about the mysteries that lay behind both the majestic and the simple. He was a leader in the lecture series in San Miguel and for over a decade endured the weekly ordeal of copy-editing articles in Atención, as well as being an avid hot-air balloonist. His great love for his wife Evelyn was ever present. Blessings, Robert, on this next journey and thank you for all you shared with us… .

Suzanne Ludekens, former Editor, Atención

Robert de Gast, photographer who captured Chesapeake’s watermen, dies

(Published January 4, The Washington Post)

By David Brown

Robert de Gast, a photographer whose 1970 book, The Oystermen of the Chesapeake, captured in harsh and unsentimental images the final days of America’s last fishing fleet under sail and is regarded as one of the finest depictions of the watermen who make their living there, died Jan. 3 at a hospice center in Baltimore. He was 79.

The cause was cancer, said a daughter, Sabrina Glaeser.

Dutch by birth, Mr. de Gast spent most of his life as a freelance photojournalist and commercial photographer on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

. . . Paula J. Johnson, a curator at the National Museum of American History’s work and industry division, called Oystermen of the Chesapeake “a masterpiece among volumes devoted to the bay and its people. It’s not a romanticized look at the work. It builds a more nuanced, more atmospheric portrait. It gives a sense of place before the phrase ‘sense of place’ became fashionable.”

. . . In his black-and-white pictures, Mr. de Gast depicted the winter fishing season in stark terms. Decks are piled high with what looks more like ore than living things. Huge, dirty sails luff in becalmed creeks. Bleached, abandoned boats rot at the end of tidal guts.

. . . Robert de Gast was born in The Hague on Oct. 10, 1936. His father, who built pianos, resettled the family in Linden, N.J., when Robert was in his teens. To improve his English and declare his independence, he worked on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma for a year. In 1954, he enlisted in the Army and was trained as a photographer.

His first marriage, to Anja van Rijn, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 48 years, the former Evelyn Chisolm, and three children from his first marriage, Sabrina Glaeser, Makaria Jayne, and Justin de Gast, all of Annapolis; two sisters; and four grandchildren.

Mr. de Gast enjoyed recalling a memorable assignment as a private first-class Army photographer.

He was sent to Fort Meade, Md., to photograph President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. Omar Bradley before the two military eminences played a round of golf. They posed without instruction. Mr. de Gast took one exposure, the flashbulb firing.

“Aren’t you going to take another picture? Everyone for the last 30 years has always taken two pictures,” Bradley asked.

“General, I think I’ve got it,” Mr. de Gast answered. “And he looked at me and said, ‘Son, you’re going to go places.’ “

That would be a good end to the story, but it isn’t the real end. To take another picture with the 4×5 Speed Graphic he was using, Mr. de Gast would have had to pull a film cassette out of the back of the camera, turn it over, and put it back in.

“My hands were shaking so much there was no way I could have done that,” he said.

Robert de Gast, famed photographer of Chesapeake Bay watermen, dies (Published January 6, The Baltimore Sun)

By Frederick N. Rasmussen

Robert de Gast, whose haunting back-and-white photographs of watermen, lighthouses, and rivers cemented his reputation as one of the premier chroniclers of Tidewater Maryland, died Sunday of cancer at the Loch Raven Veterans Administration Community Living and Rehabilitation Center, a Baltimore hospice.

“The staple of his work was black-and-white photography. It is the unvarnished truth,” said Pete Lesher, a noted maritime and boat-building historian who is curator of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. “He was the sort of photographer who saw a good picture and then took it. He’d tell his students that you have to see the picture before you take it.”

“To my mind, his best book was The Oystermen of the Chesapeake that was published in 1970,” said Tom Horton, former Baltimore Sun environmental columnist, author and a longtime friend of Mr. de Gast’s. “It captured what oystering meant culturally, economically and socially and that it was a large part of the heritage of Maryland.

. . . In 1987 he and his wife moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which inspired books including The Doors of San Miguel de Allende, published in 1994, and The Churches and Chapels of San Miguel de Allende three years later.

Declining health brought Mr. de Gast and his wife back to Maryland about three years ago, his daughter said.

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the repository of Mr. de Gast’s black-and-white bay photos, is planning a exhibition of his work for 2017. “His passing adds an urgency to it,” Mr. Lesher said.


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