Nothing in this world can replace someone who is no longer with us. Brother David Gilkey (Alpha-Lambda ‘89) was recently honored in the Fairbanks Gallery at Oregon State University through a series of photographs and lifetime memorabilia.
Gilkey graduated from Oregon State University in 1989 with aspirations to live a life of service through photojournalism. He was introduced to photography at a young age as his father was a hobby photographer. His love of the artform continued through his college years and matured into covering news for NPR in Afghanistan.
“He did his work because he, ultimately, felt a calling. He had a combination of innate talent and fearlessness which contributed to allowing him to do what he was so great at” explains Claudine Kent, longtime friend and partner of Gilkey.
That passion lead him to one of the most dangerous countries in the world in the height of the War in Afghanistan. Special forces announced it was unsafe to be in the area but he was dedicated to his job enough that his own safety wasn’t a concern. Gilkey sent one last text to Kent as an update; she knew things were far worse than he was verbalizing.
“I couldn’t even say, ‘be safe’ because I knew it wasn’t going to be safe. I hadn’t heard from him for a long enough time that I had an instinct that something was wrong. I said, ‘Are you in harm’s way and is the adrenaline rushing or are you sitting someplace safe and bored?’ And my text went out at about the time they say he was killed. It’s like we had this thing that you just can’t describe” says Kent.
During his celebrations, Kent began to realize that his close friends didn’t know the “real David.” Most knew him as the passionate photojournalist who approached his job with intensity. Kent knew him as the same mischievous and curious guy she grew up with. It became her mission to share his art in a way that represented him well.
In collaboration with Reporters without Borders, Kent wanted to “keep David’s work in the public eye” and educate students about the deep sacrifice journalists make to deliver accurate news. Gilkey became a different person as he dove deeper into the battlefield and Kent was increasingly aware of how the trauma affected his personality and drive.
“David used to struggle when talking to college students because he didn’t want to squash anybody’s dreams. He also didn’t want anybody to go into a career that had drastically changed since he first got involved. This isn’t a business they can go into for money or to be famous. Its challenging and the odds of landing a job in that environment is tough” says Kent.
Entitled, “Reporters without Borders and Pictures on the Radio Present a Tribute to David Gilkey,” the exhibit included an opening reception with NPR Morning Edition Host David Green and Kent to talk about the complexity of his work. While Green spoke about his impact on the news conglomerate, Kent revealed his true personality and promoted her book in his honor, Pictures on the Radio.
She explains that it has been a slow process, creating the book. Kent has spent hours reading through his journals that highlight his time in Lambda Chi. Members she read about attended his service and explained the more complex tales that warrant a, “you had to be there” statement.
Holding onto the physical pieces he left behind from his fraternity days reminds Kent that Gilkey was always in good hands. His Alpha-Lambda brothers encouraged his work until they only had the chance to admire it. That lifelong connection, along with Kent’s unwavering support, kept Gilkey grounded all his life.
“He touched people in a really special way that not everyone does. His mom and I were shocked at his service over how many people, from all over the world, came to share stories and how much David meant to them” says Kent.
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