Romeo Gacad, 62

Photo from Romeo Gacad in our Hearts Facebook group.

VETERAN PHOTOJOURNALIST Romeo Gacad, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, passed away on Saturday evening (October 30) in Thailand at the age of 62.

Gacad was the photo editor for Thailand and Southeast Asia of Agence France Presse.

In a statement, Gacad’s family said the  photojournalist succumbed to “liver complications related to (gastrointestinal stromal tumor) wild type cancer.” 

“Many know our dad for living a fearless and full life. He met the cancer with the same inspiring energy,” his children, Raha, Bianca and Sabrina, said in the statement. 

Gacad, a former Agence France Presse (AFP) chief photographer, covered wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

According to the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), he established the AFP photo division in Manila during the stormy years of the Marcos regime in the 1980s.

Gacad first landed in the Pulitzer finals in 1989, after photographing Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis at the finish line of the 100-meter dash finals event at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

He made it to the finals again in 2002 for his photographs of America’s war in Afghanistan, which were published on Christmas Eve 2001 in TIME magazine.

The following year, Gacad was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Iraq war.

According to AFP, Gacad joined its Manila Bureau in January 1985, having established himself as a “highly skilled photographer” as a freelancer and as part of a University of the Philippines publication.

“He was among a fierce and courageous generation of Philippine journalists who started out their careers exposing the human rights abuses under  Martial Law, and would go on to forge remarkable careers promoting democracy at home and abroad,” the French news wire agency said.

“Endowed with a deep humanity, Romy was the kind of journalist to volunteer for any assignment, no matter how delicate, whether in the field or in the office,” AFP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Philippe Massonnet said in the agency’s statement.

According to FOCAP, Gacad was a “man of a few words who let his images speak the truth.” 

“Always mindful that stories and pictures can change lives, Romy was exacting in his standards. He was humble, unassuming, and was the epitome of grace under pressure. While others chose to run, he carried on with measured and calculated steps,” it said in a statement.

Gacad is remembered as a “legend” for his work covering protests, conflict and wars. The next generation of photographers looked up to him as a mentor. Following his death, Facebook was flooded with tributes from friends and colleagues in the journalist and artist communities.

National Artist Virgilio Almario penned a poem for Gacad titled “Retratista.”

“Here is a shooter who stands out with his works. But more than that, he stands tall in the industry for being fair to everyone, newcomer or veteran, mainstream, freelancer or alternative,” wrote photographer Jun Sepe

“Romeo Gacad was our foundation, our barometer in producing quality images, especially in hostile areas. He was also our torch whenever we were lost in the field,” said journalist Julie Alipala.

“A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Romy was among the best we had. He was a kind and gentle person who I learned a lot from,” former journalist Elmer Cato wrote.

Gacad’s children said that their father appreciated “the many wonders of everyday life” and “shared meaningful relationships with friends and loved ones all across Manila, Jakarta, Yangon, Bangkok” where he had been posted.

“On behalf of our family – dad’s siblings, the whole Gacad-Maniquiz clan, and our mother, Nida, we thank you for celebrating our dad’s life with us,” they said.