Tributes poured in last night from all sectors of the community for veteran Royal Gazette photographer, Tamell Simons, who died after a battle with cancer.
Mr Simons, 46, who died on Thursday evening, was remembered for making “the world a more beautiful place one shot at a time”.
He was a dedicated employee of The Royal Gazette for 20 years, apart from one short period when he worked as a freelance photographer. During that time he produced ‘Date With Destiny’ a book about the Progressive Labour Party’s historic 1998 general election victory.
As a newspaper photographer he covered everything from elections, hurricanes, fires, strikes and all of the major news events of the last two decades, but was also an excellent human interest photographer.
“Photography is as much about putting people at their ease so they can be themselves as it is about finding an angle or the right focus, and Tamell was really excellent with people,” said The Royal Gazette editor Bill Zuill. “He was also an inspiring mentor to many younger photographers, who have gone on to very successful careers in the field.
“His illness prevented him from carrying out his plans for a community young photographers club, but he was as passionate about this, as he was in helping residents of Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute (MWI) to develop their talents.
“He also never forgot his roots and was fully committed to ensuring The Royal Gazette covered Bermuda in all of its wonderful diversity.”
Mr Zuill described Mr Simons as a friend as well as a colleague and offered his sincere condolences to the photographer’s family, especially his son Tamell, partner Teresa and her daughter, Antoinette, to whom he showed enormous dedication and commitment.
“It is very sad that he has been taken from Bermuda at an age when he still had so much to offer and we will miss him terribly,” said Mr Zuill.
Many of the people who paid tribute remarked on Mr Simon’s wisdom and kindness. He was a private person, but was always willing to listen and served as mentor to many people in the community.
Trevor Lindsay, cameraman for the Bermuda Broadcasting Company (BBC), said: “Over the last two decades, Tamell and I worked together in the field.
“During those years, I had personal troubles with substance abuse, but when I was trying to make a positive and permanent change in my life, Tamell, unlike many others, stood by me with encouragement and never turned his back on me.”
Mr Simons’ philosophy in life was ‘One Love’ and he often signed his e-mails that way, explained childhood friend Philip Seaman.
“Tamell and I attended primary and secondary school together,” said Mr Seaman. “Our friendship goes back over 40 years. Recently, he reached out to me via Facebook while he was in Boston. He shared with me why he was there [for medical reasons]. He was so positive, and always saw the bright side of every situation.
“His conversation always ended with ‘One Love’. Tamell encouraged me to stay calm, be positive, make a difference, but most of all, to do everything in love.”
At the end of 2010, Mr Simons began to set up a photography club called ‘Through the Lens: See What they See’, geared at helping students aged nine to 13 years old from the Pembroke Central area. He also volunteered teaching MWI clients, suffering with depression or other mental illness, the basics of photography as a tool to their own recovery.
Lena Ostroff, a Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) spokeswoman said: “Tamell’s warmth and caring towards service users, who are often marginalised due to their illness, and his passion for the PhotoVoice Project made a huge impact in the lives of so many people. He was loved and respected by MWI staff who worked alongside him. He touched not only the service users he taught, but their relatives as well.”
Of his many accomplishments, Mr Simons received the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in 2002. Yesterday, a number of politicians also paid tribute to him in the House of Assembly, noting his talent and passion as a photographer, positive character and determination to set young people on the right path.
Pembroke South East Member of Parliament (MP) Ashfield DeVent, a personal friend, said: “I think his work will be here forever, particularly in his book ‘Date With Destiny’. He was a good spirited man, always looking on the positive side, encouraging people.”
Mr DeVent revealed he had been working alongside Mr Simons on a project targeting young people in the troubled Glebe Road area.
“His intent was for them to start shooting each other with a camera instead of a gun,” said the PLP MP. “We only got it going for a few weeks before he succumbed to his illness.”
Premier Paula Cox described yesterday’s news as tragic and sobering, saying of Mr Simons: “He was one of those people who struck you as a very quiet, peaceful warrior.”
Estates Minister Michael Scott described Mr Simons as a bright and shining star of Bermuda’s media.
One Bermuda Alliance Leader Craig Cannonier also commented on the tragic loss. “Tamell kept in close touch with the pulse of Bermuda and often caught that pulse in the lens of his ever-present camera,” said Mr Cannonier.
Former colleague Rene Hill, now at local station BBC, said: “From a reporter’s standpoint, when Tamell went out to shoot photos for the lifestyle section, we always knew he’d capture our story perfectly. His legacy has made the world a more beautiful place one shot at a time.”
Colleague Glenn Tucker said: “He was my mentor, teacher, friend [and] my closest brother. He would give you the shirt off his back [and was] a real photographer’s photographer who believed in charitable works. If you had a chance to know him personally you had nothing bad to say about him.”
The Royal Gazette photography editor, David Skinner, worked with Mr Simons over 20 years and said there was always a healthy rivalry between the two.
“Tamell had three passions in life; family, job and giving back to the community. His ability to grasp a story and to tell that story in one frame was amazing. I would put his work up against any award winning photojournalist in the world. You always knew if Tamell went out on an assignment because you were always going to get that story covered fairly and accurately.
“The man was respected and well liked. Not just as a photojournalist, but as a person. If you have ever walked down the road with Tamell you knew you were going to have to add a few more minutes to your commute because it seemed everyone knew him and everyone was after advice from him.”
Mark Tatem, another The Royal Gazette photographer, said: “Tamell will always be my inspiration. He kept his whole team grounded and in a world of instant gratification always reminded us that we all screw up sometimes. He always encouraged us to give back to our community and Tamell’s saying ‘the price of living is giving’ will always stay with me.”
Sophie Cressall, curator at Bermuda National Gallery (BNG), said his death was “devastating news”. “He was an amazing man and an exceptionally talented photographer. We will continue to remember him through his photographs. He captured our world with sensitivity, directness and passion. He will be missed dearly.”
Mr Simons leaves behind numerous family and friends to mourn his loss.