Obituary: Life and work of photographer Rey-Millet celebrated

Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet, March 21, 1946 - June 30, 2016

The following was read by Patricia Bradley at a Mass of Thanksgiving for photographer Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet, who passed away on June 30 at the age of 70.

Of all the places I thought I would be traveling with Yves-Jacques, being here on his last journey today was not one of them.

We had set off 4.5 months ago to Barbados, where suddenly he became ill; on return, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and so began a relentless and rapid decline.

So, as his dear friends, we need this gathering for support, for remembering and to say a joint goodbye to this most special and beloved of human beings.

Yves-Jacques was born of French parents, and adopted Swiss nationality, he and his brother were schooled until bar finals in Switzerland and spent their holidays with their grandmother in Florida. He will be buried in her grave [this] week.

Yves-Jacques and [his first wife] Ann-Marie came to Cayman in the mid-’70s and built a house at Bat’s Cave [in Cayman Brac] where many here enjoyed their renowned hospitality. He was loved by his friends and his presence generated an immediate feeling of good will and bonhomie. He was such good fun and his very amusing dry wit was used to best effect when he mixed his punch line in French and English.

Yves-Jacques was highly intelligent. His Swiss legal friends, especially his closest friend of 55 years, Jean-Pierre Jacquemoud, said he would have had a brilliant career at the bar. He chose different path, using his legal brain on family issues and on photography, a passion which began aged 13. These and book publishing became an integral part of Yves-Jacques’s intellectual life and to which he committed his last 33 years.

No day went by without active photography, studying new equipment, experimenting with new techniques, cataloguing images or discussing books or travel or the latest species required for publication. He relished the dual challenge of producing perfect images of birds in flight while at the same time capturing their unique qualities so as to make each species identifiable and recognizable. It is a rare skill.

In 1982, Governor Peter Lloyd introduced us and suggested our collaboration on a Cayman bird book and the idea took off. It led to one of the defining friendships of our lives. We embarked on a joint voyage of discovery – that lasted 33 years and with a conversation that continued without ceasing. It led to the first photographic field guide for birds.

Yves-Jacques was proud that first book, illustrated with photographs rather than drawings and paintings, set a precedent and is now part of an international series published by Bloomsbury. The series includes his Jamaican book, followed in 2013 by our photographic guide to the all birds of the Cayman Islands.

This book also belongs to his wife, Alexandra, to whom Yves-Jacques dedicated it. She went with him almost daily, helping add to his mighty 30-year database of several hundred thousand images.

It was her patience and sense of order that allowed peace and calm to reign as we married the text and the images we chose to produce a publishable whole. All the proceeds of the book have been donated to the National Trust.

Since 2013, we have been working on a book of Cuban birds with Arturo Kirkconnell. It was Yves-Jacques’s final wish to complete the book and we have promised to do so in his memory.

Yves-Jacques’s library of endemic bird photographs of the Greater Antilles is unique, and contributed to global knowledge and understanding on the often endangered and threatened species of the West Indies. He has made a genuinely important contribution to science, and I hope that sharing his photographic library will form a living and valued memorial to this gifted and dedicated man.

Yves-Jacques was my dear and much loved friend, and I will always treasure this unique and very precious friendship. The Bradley family send their love and condolences today.

Yves-Jacques was liked by almost everyone he knew or came into contact, remembered long afterward by his kindness, generosity, and beautiful manners. His gift of generating warmth was much in evidence at the hospital for those last sad weeks. I would like to thank, on behalf of the family, Dr. Holliday, Dr. Bromley and Dr. Venetia Binoy and all her team at Health City. He could have not had more tender care anywhere.

The best things that happened to Yves-Jacques in the last 10 years was meeting Alexandra. She banished all the years of loneliness and they brought each other great happiness including their shared delight in the natural world. And he loved and was proud of his son Alexander. He finally had a family, and it brought him immense joy and fulfillment.

A Mass of Thanksgiving for the life of Mr. Rey-Millet was celebrated at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Grand Cayman, on Thursday, July 7.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now