Shortly before he died last week, Hal Crosthwaite was asked how he hoped to be remembered.
“Adventurous. Friendly. Willing to help others,” he said over the whir of medical machinery in his Denville bedroom, where his year-long battle with cancer was winding down.
Diver Hal had made peace with his fate; he packed many adventures into his 83 years.
Many of those involved photography, which he pursued with the skill of a pro and the zeal of an amateur. His lens captured everything from hummingbirds to grizzly bears.
“He took photos that revealed the enormous, breathtaking beauty of creation,” said Thomas Sheffield, pastor emeritus of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, where Diver Hal was an Elder.
On Safari: Slideshow photos by Hal Crosthwaite. Click/hover on image for captions:
I cannot recall precisely where we met. Most likely, he was photographing a concert at the church. We eyed each other’s gear. High-end Nikons with bazooka-sized lenses dangled from his neck. I shot video for Morristown Green with something resembling a digital water pistol.
When I tripped over his last name, he handed me a business card with a mug shot of a moray eel and a simple email handle.
“Just call me Diver Hal,” he said.
His first photograph for Morristown Green, as far as I can tell, was from our 2009 film festival. Sometimes, his pictures arrived in my in-box unsolicited; other times, I asked him to shoot events around town. He obliged enthusiastically, with results that showed off his keen eye for color and composition.
Morristown High School’s 2010 football championship. First Night fireworks. Memorial Day parades. St. Patrick’s parades. Human cannonballs at the circus. Diver Hal always came back with great shots.
But exotic destinations were what he lived for.
“Hal had a seemingly unquenchable thirst for travel and photography,” marveled photographer Bruce Frazier, his longtime friend.
Diver Hal’s cameras visited nearly two dozen countries, spread over 150 trips. Some took him below the waves, others, to jungles and rain forests and mountain temples.
Ten photo safaris in Africa followed his 2003 retirement as a consultant in the elevator business. (“I worked my way up,” he deadpanned.)
Of course, there was more depth to Diver Hal, whose life will be celebrated via a service on YouTube on Oct. 17, 2020.
As president of the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, he helped build a half dozen homes. He documented good works by Foundation for Peace, and was remembered as a gracious mentor in Denville’s Hub Camera Club.
“My favorite memory is his humor, his bear hugs, and his gentle ribbing,” said club member Nancie Bozza.
Diver Hal was proudest of his kids — two children and four stepchildren — and a brood of 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, the youngest born last year.
Sheffield noted Diver Hal’s knack for photographing children in the congregation — a talent undoubtedly honed by shooting wildlife.
He will be greatly missed, said his last pastor, David Smazik.
“Hal was a steady, solid person, with a ready smile and laugh,” Smazik said.
ELEPHANTS CHARGE THE SAFARI TRUCK
That smile flashed brightly whenever the subject turned to nature photos. Bumping into Diver Hal was a vicarious adventure, replete with highlights from his last trip, or plans for the next.
More than half a million images, preserved as negatives, slides and digital files, are stored on Diver Hal’s shelves, estimates his widow Carolyn, who was helping him scan and catalog the collection.
He patted a blind rhino in Africa, dived among sharks in the Maldives, and explored sunken Japanese fighter planes in the Solomons.
Kenya and Tanzania were favorite destinations. Diver Hal’s last trip was there last year with his son, Alan.
Photographing wild creatures requires more than a knowledge of F-stops, Diver Hal quickly discovered.
In Alaska, he learned to huddle close to other shutterbugs, to appear more formidable when a grizzly got too curious. (Tip No. 2: Keep your pepper spray locked and loaded.)
He also knew better than to answer nature’s call after sundown in Africa.
In Botswana, a lion wandered through camp late one night and let loose a tent-rattling roar. “Scared the bejesus out of me,” Diver Hal said.
In Kenya, hippos waddled through a camp where he and Carolyn were sleeping.
Carolyn and Diver Hal met at the Presbyterian Church, and began dating after his second wife, Joanne, died from cancer 20 years ago.
He introduced Carolyn to scuba diving, something she dreamed about while growing up in Cincinnati, watching Lloyd Bridges on the TV show Sea Hunt.
Thanks to Diver Hal, she now knows that sharks’ eye are yellow. On a dive one night in the Maldives, the couple saw nurse sharks perform barrel rolls at their flippered feet.
Before long, Carolyn added, “I was kissing giraffes, and watching elephants charge the safari truck.” She even tried glider flights in Sussex County and paragliding in California.
“What I feel Hal did for me was to awaken a spirit of adventure and love of travel that I didn’t know I had,” Carolyn said. “I want to be able to say at the end of my life what Hal said at the end of his: ‘I had a good life and have no regrets.'”
ONE MORE ADVENTURE
Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Harold Scott Crosthwaite Jr. grew up in Burbank and studied mechanical engineering and math at the University of California-Long Beach, until financial concerns forced him to drop out.
For a few years he was a math tutor. Through a friend, he landed a job in the estimates department of an elevator company. He worked in the industry for the next 43 years, retiring from Van Deusen & Associates in Livingston.
One of his philosophies was to find a new hobby every five years or so.
“Go for it. Try it. If you don’t like it, move away,” said Diver Hal, who applied the same advice to business.
While he enjoyed fishing, deer hunting, water skiing and scuba diving, it was an Argus camera, purchased while he was an Army policeman at Fort Polk in Louisiana during the 1950s, that sparked his most enduring pastime.
At the Los Angeles Photography Society, he photographed young starlets and learned black-and-white and color processing.
Some purists scoffed at digital photography in the 1990s. But Diver Hal was an early convert, learning Photoshop and mastering a technique of blending multiple shots at different exposures into brilliant composite images.
This was not cheating, he insisted. In an earlier age, Ansel Adam produced masterpieces through darkroom chemistry.
“It’s the same thing. Just a tool,” Diver Hal said.
His passion for travel was kindled by his second wife, Joanne, who met with clients around the world for her investment firm. After the Iron Curtain fell, she helped Russian women entrepreneurs, and set up businesses in Moscow.
“It was my first experience of really being in a foreign country that was changing,” Diver Hal said.
His final photo expedition was in August 2019, to Africa. Weeks later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Surgery soon revealed abdominal cancer. More surgeries and treatments followed.
After a stint this summer in a rehab center under COVID-19 lockdown, he decided he’d had enough.
“They isolated me for 14 days. They didn’t know how to take care of me. It wasn’t an experience I’ve ever had in my life,” Diver Hal said.
His conversation was punctuated by gasps of pain, punching through the morphine. He wished he could hang on a little longer, he said, “but it’s not in the cards.”
He felt fortunate; over the years he seized opportunities “thrown in front of me.” He endorsed the strategy. “Whatever you decide, do it. Life is short.”
Diver Hal was ready for his next adventure, free from pain.
“I’m going to be up there somewhere. I don’t know where,” he said, but it surely beats tubes and machines.
“I’m okay with it. I’ve had a great life.”
Hal Crosthwaite is survived by his first wife, Yvonne, and children Alan Crosthwaite and Janet Crosthwaite Breault; stepchildren Michael Eshelman and Sheryl Eshelman Huchala; his current wife Carolyn (Muntz) Crosthwaite and her children David Green and Sarah Green Sarver; 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his second wife, Joanne (Holstein); and his parents, Lillian (Robinson) and Harold Scott Crosthwaite Sr.
Donations in Hal’s memory may be made to the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, 65 South St., Morristown, NJ 07960.