Memorial Service Eulogy by Paul Macks
February 24, 2007
John Daniel Elliott has received several honorifics over the last few years. Los Alamos declared him a living treasure. The Professional Photographers of America awarded him a Master of Photography. But I have to believe that the title he cherished the most was bestowed upon him many years ago by those who love him – Father Dan.
Through the great fortune of having met my wife Barbara, I’ve known Dan for over 30 years and have always appreciated the opportunity afforded me to be part of this extraordinary family.
Dan was a special kind of photographer. He was the de facto chronicler of one of America’s most unique small towns. The weddings, births and graduations of Los Alamos were all captured through the lens of Dan Elliott. But his work extended beyond the confines of the town. It was out there that his talents blossomed. He had the eye of an artist and the guile of a con man. There existed no where on earth where Dan couldn’t get the picture he wanted. He’d talk his way in or trade his way in or just kind of end up there. Many of his photographs were of the people and places of the Southwest and it was clear that those striking images came straight from the heart.
Over the last few years, when Barb and I would come out to Santa Fe, Dan would always have a project for me to do in the condo. I quickly learned that what I was told in advance and what the project actually looked like when I got there were not always the same thing. This led to two project truisms. One, bring every tool that you have and two, you can get almost anything else you might need at Metzgers.
There are many other stories I could tell about Dan, but I think the one I remember most speaks to Dan’s love of tradition. And there was no greater tradition than the rituals of Christmas Eve. Dan had determined many years ago that he couldn’t wait until Christmas morning so presents were to be opened on Christmas Eve. But the process had its rules. First, he would get a permit to cut down a tree in the national forest. This meant that several days before the holiday, we would pile in the car to pick out and cut a tree. This process involved a lengthy trek through the woods to find the perfect tree. We usually found that perfect tree about a dozen times before we found the actual perfect tree. Then it had to be hauled back to the car and the return drive down the very narrow logging road. Last but not least was the prospect of a great lunch in Espanola on the way home.
Then on Christmas Eve, there was Marcelle’s enormous Mexican food dinner, followed by the men doing the dishes. Then the gifts were opened in ascending order of age. This was immediately followed by egg nog and Marcelle’s selection of every kind of Christmas cookie ever invented. So strong was this tradition, that except for the tree part, we have followed it to a “T” back east through two successive generations.
I could go on about his generous spirit or his perpetually bad jokes. But I think the life of Dan Elliott can be summed up in the words of the man himself – Not too shabby. No Father Dan, not too shabby at all.