Memorial Service Eulogy by Joanne Rochester
JOHN DANIEL ELLIOTT
February 24, 2007
Dan Elliott was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 9, 1918. He proudly graduated from Rockhurst High School in 1939, and his family made their way to Los Angeles. There he met Marcelle at the Young People’s Club at the Catholic Church where they both attended. They were married in 1942 but separated by World War II when Dan was drafted six months later and returned 2 and ½ years later.
Dan came to Los Alamos with his family in 1949 and served as a photographer at the lab until 1955, first as a junior photographer and eventually as acting group leader. He was involved in atmospheric photography testing in Nevada and overseas. His photo, named “Ranger Fox,” was a pre-dawn airdrop atomic bomb test that was published in U.S. News and World Report and hung in the White House during the time of President Harry S. Truman. It is presently displayed at Otowi Station.
Dan Elliott purchased the Los Alamos Photo Shop in 1955 and served the public for 30 years. He worked long hours taking school photos, passport pictures, indoor and outdoor portraits, competed for contracts with the lab to purchase photographic materials, and took pictures for Los Alamos High School graduations for thirty years. He also took pictures for The Santa Fe New Mexican. In addition, his store served the community through film development, camera equipment and supplies, Western Union, custom framing, shooting wedding photos, repairing of sound systems and printing. One young bride from the Lazarus family toasted the photographer at her wedding. Numerous high school students and community members were employees of the store as well as his five children. Pat Rutherford was the first high school student dad hired and others such as Pat Briesmeister Archer and Jerry Peek worked at the store as young people and remained long-time friends of my parents. Dan printed the Hadassah Cookbook from the women in the community. Each woman came to the Photo Shop to type their recipe on his typewriter so the type would match. That cookbook is now in its second volume. In addition, Dan served on the Chamber of Commerce Board. He was Director of the Professional Photographers of New Mexico in the 1970’s and was a member of the Professional Photographers of America for over 25 years. Later, he attended the Winona School of Photography for Advanced Portraiture and Color Printing.
More recently, Dan served on the Los Alamos Education Group with other community members to address misinformation such as the fear of radioactivity, explaining issues, challenges and benefits of nuclear technology and waste, and to present the benefits of nuclear energy and use of nuclear resources. This group created a display located at the Bradbury Science Museum. Dan enlarged old pictures from WWII showing prisoners and prison camps depicting the war. During this time, he and others brought boulders to Ashley Pond to honor work in Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project.
Both Dan and our mother, Marcelle, have been active members of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish since they arrived in Los Alamos in 1949. Dan served as a member of Knights of Columbus and together they raised five children: Joanne, Barbara, Jeanne, Carol and Brian. My mother proudly boasts that she and my dad were the oldest married couple at this church – 64 years.
Dan and Marcelle have lived at Oppenheimer Place since 1996 where Dan has served on the Board of Directors and donated many of his photographs which are prominently hung throughout the facility. In later years, my dad enjoyed raising “cosmos,” a lovely flower that he could see growing from the window in their condo and photograph as well. They were a lovely sight behind Oppenheimer Place on Rose Street. I would come every May and plant the seeds to get things started.
Dan photographed the faces, places and happenings of Los Alamos for five decades while raising a family and contributing to the Bradbury Museum. He was honored as a “Living Treasure” in September of 2004 and earned the Master of Photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America in 2005. I was touched when I heard that Elizabeth Aiello wants to remain in her home because she is surrounded by family pictures taken by my dad. Even Bud and Theresa Winslow, who live near me in the Seattle area, show off the portraits of their three daughters from the 1960’s whenever I visit.
Growing up in Los Alamos was a unique experience. Everyone’s parents went off to work at “secret” places and nothing was discussed. Family weekends for the Elliotts included picnics at nearby Bandelier and the surrounding countryside with lots of picture-taking. Dining out meant S-site cafeteria for yummy enchiladas and holidays with the Schultes and Petrantos. My parents traveled throughout the U.S., Europe, Africa and took numerous cruises, especially with the Schultes. They had lots of adventures in their RV and especially loved driving through Arizona and down into Mexico to sit on the beach. They had one harrowing experience when driving home, with their car attached to the back of RV, dad stopped in Tucson for gas and noticed that the car was not attached to the back of the RV and was no where in sight. My mother laughed when she was telling me that story, but my sister Jeanne scolded them and told them not to travel with the RV any more. That didn’t stop them.
I will always remember my dad as a happy person. He always found the joy in life and how lucky all five of us were to work at The Photo Shop and develop a wonderful work ethic. We all left Los Alamos for educational opportunities and most landed in cities far away, but when I come to visit, I take the time to drive past familiar places and remember.
My dad made the world a better place with all his contributions and good nature. But, the legacy he has left me is a curiosity about life, an example of a life whose riches owe little to money, a sense that anything is possible if you work hard, a model of what a father should be. Those are all great gifts. We’ll miss you dad.