By NAN Staff Writer
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Sat. Dec. 14, 2019: Hayden Roger Celestin, one of the Caribbean’s best international photographers, lost his battle with a devastating stroke this morning, Dec. 14, 2019, at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. He was 64.
Celestin, a News Americas photographer since 2011, had suffered a stroke in recovery from a simple surgery in June at the Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. He had been in and out of hospitals ever since, including Downstate, as well as in rehab, unable to move. Celestin then suffered a deadly superbug at the Palm Gardens nursing home in Brooklyn, NY, that added to his ailments and served to further debilitate him.
Friends and colleagues reacted with sorrow at the passing Saturday of the man many knew as just “Roger.”
News Americas publisher and friend, Felicia J. Persaud, said she is heartbroken but remembered him as not just a consummate professional, but one who was always positive, supportive and encouraging, jocular and full of gratitude for life.
“It’s now settling in that Roger has crossed over to the other side,” Persaud said this morning. “The tears are starting to flow but with them comes so much joy, as I remember the many jokes and funny comments of Mr. Roge. – which is what I called him – while standing in awe of the way he lived his life – with so much gratitude and faith – never, ever complaining. All of us can learn from that.”
“I will forever remember the support he gave to News Americas from the start, the way he believed in the vision and the start-up, the way he encouraged and believed in me always and our many, many conversations over the last few years,” Persaud added.
“I remember how many photographers had to go back to their bosses to explain how they did not get the shot Roger did because he planned the shot ahead of time in his head and made sure he got it,” longtime friend and New York Daily News editor, Jared McCallister, reminisced as he grappled with the shock of Celestin’s untimely death.
AP photographer Jason Szenes, who embraced Celestin as a “father” and knew him for 30 plus years, said he will most remember “Roger for his infectious laughter” and the fact that he “planned images in his head.”
“When everyone was on the right side, he went to the left,” to get that shot added Szenes, who reminisced of one time taking a bus from Port Authority with Celestin to Albany to cover the inauguration of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“He went to treatment at midnight and then got on a bus at Port Authority at 3:30 a.m. after. That was Roger. That’s what he did most of the times. Roger was a fighter and he fought until the end,” he said.
Childhood friend Colonel Neil Hugo Bennett (ret’d), said he wants Celestin to be “remembered for his tenacity for life.”
“Through all his challenges he persevered and impacted the lives of everyone with whom he came into contact with,” added Colonel Bennett. “so many of us can testify to this. His zeal and positive outlook of life was uplifting to me and I’m sure many others.”
Friend and fellow photographer, Hakim Mutlaq, remembered Celestin as a “brother (who) loved his craft and his people.”
“One of the best photographer’s in the world has left us,” said Mutlaq. “He was hardworking, dedicated, disciplined and committed lover of the art. He also did not mince words and was known to be irascible at times. He was a fighter who came a long way from his roots as a fledging carpenter with his dad in Tunapuna, Trinidad. That gave him a love of the fine arts which was then translated into a love of photographer through his travels.”
Mutlaq also remembered how, Celestin, only the third longest living dialysis patient in the world, never felt he had a disease but an issue he had to deal with.
“And he dealt with it so well that he even mastered the art of telling the technicians how to treat him,” Mutlaq added. “While working to document our Caribbean cultural experiences as well as major aspects of the African American and world experience. He loved to get the ‘THE’ picture and was happy to get back on his feet in June to cover the Tribute to the Ancestors in June. Ironically, now he is with the ancestors.”
Shaun Walsh, head of Whatz Up TV, told NAN: “Roger always inspired me. It was never any type of competition. He always offered tips. He used to love going to the UN. It was almost like Christmas to him. He would always tell me of how many leaders globally he had met. Yet he was still willing to help people, always showed me tips to make my work better. I will always appreciate him for that. He made his contribution, he did his work. He did not loaf. I hope his contribution is acknowledged.”
Celestin’s stroke had come amid his recovery from back surgery in 2015 that had left him learning to walk again. Additionally, he had also been on dialysis for a stunning 39 years, shocking many medical professionals with his ability to survive that long on the treatment.
But despite the health challenge, the Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-based, immigrant built an illustrious international career as a New York Press Association news photographer, work for several major publications including the New York Daily News and for top wire services like Getty, AFP and UPI, covering numerous major events including the NBA, the US Open, the UN and numerous world leaders including all of the Trinidadian prime ministers dating back to the 1980s, Presidential and local election campaigns, West Indian Carnival, as well as the celebrity scene including being a constant at the Letterman show.
Celestin also worked for Everybody’s Magazine in the early 1980’s. He joined the NAN team in 2011 and had been with us since – with the only hiatus being his recent illness.
After fighting his way back from a debilitating back surgery, Celestin ensured he was back to doing what he loved – taking pictures – by making his first public news outing on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at the Oliver Samuel’s show, “Four Can’t Play” at the Walt Whitman Theater at Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York.
Celestin was preceded in death by his mother. He is survived by several relatives and close friends. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.