PACIFIC GROVE — Pat Hathaway, a man from a troubled childhood and a veteran of a troubling war who went on to establish what many are calling the most important archive of historical images of the Monterey Bay area, died this week at his home in Pacific Grove.
Details of his death are unclear, but Michael Hemp, a close friend, historian and author of “Cannery Row: The History of John Steinbeck’s Old Ocean View Avenue,” which contains many photos from Mr. Hathaway’s collection, said he suffered from myasthenia gravis, a degenerative neurological disease connected to exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War.
He has no known relatives, had no children and was never married. Hemp said Mr. Hathaway was a few years his junior, which would have put him in his mid-70s.
Hemp and Mr. Hathaway met in 1979 and launched a friendship and a historical collaboration that would run for 35 years. “We were joined at the hip,” Hemp said this week from his home in Gig Harbor, Wash.
“Photos from his collection hang in banks, attorney offices and schools,” Hemp said. “There are photos of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas and Carmel and other places in California. They are all hanging there because of Pat Hathaway.”
The exact number of photos in Mr. Hathaway’s collection isn’t certain, but when “Cannery Row” was published in 2009, his photos numbered somewhere north of 80,000 images.
Inga Waite, the director of the Monterey Public Library, said Mr. Hathaway began collecting photos at a time when libraries weren’t able to gather photo collections.
“Photos are essential for connecting us to our past,” Waite said. “They remind us of how fleeting our lives are and invite us to ask questions, like who are those people and what was that building? His collection is really priceless.”
While images from his negatives are dispersed globally and are used by academia and other history researchers, there was, unfortunately, a lot of information that Mr. Hathaway took with him when he died, Hemp said.
Tim Thomas, a historian who spent 16 years at the former Monterey Maritime Museum (now the Salvador Dali Museum) as its curator, knew Mr. Hathaway for four decades. The Hathaway collection is incredibly important because many are unique.
“He had things no one had seen before,” Thomas said. “We had our own collection but if we needed anything we could always go to Pat.
“He had such a passion for those photos,” Thomas added. “It was remarkable. He really cared deeply about them.”
Another local historian and history consultant, Kent Seavy, said the collection is “seminal in its volume” of photos of the Monterey Bay region and the broader area of California.
“He was indefatigable at searching out images and archiving them,” Seavy said.
He was also enigmatic, a trait both Hemp and Seavy attributed to a childhood that was fraught with difficult times. His father, whom Hemp said was a member of the French resistance during World War II, left Mr. Hathaway and his mother when he was a child.
His stepfather was career military, which is likely why Mr. Hathaway ended up joining the Army, Seavy said. During the Vietnam War, he was stationed around Pleiku, a hotly contested region in central Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army’s base areas were just to the west of the Pleiku plateau in Cambodia. It was there that Mr. Hathaway was likely exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical compound highly toxic to humans and dropped from the air in order to defoliate jungle areas used by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong.
“I think it was one of the things that killed him,” Seavy said. “He attempted to get treatment (from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) for years but it wasn’t until the past few that they recognized Agent Orange as the cause.”
Mr. Hathaway embraced what Seavy calls the “continuity of change.” Cities are looking for more money, generating “income from golf and cars and this and that and falling away from the importance of cultural tourism.”
“He wanted to make a record of cultural importance before it all went away,” Seavy said.
As his mother, who was also French, eased into her waning years, Mr. Hathaway devoted his time to ensure he cared for her, Seavy and Hemp both said.
“He was a dedicated son and a good soldier,” Seavy said. “He committed his life to the visual heritage of the Monterey Bay area.”
Contributed by local news sources