We could list all of Jerry’s many accomplishments, but so can Google. Instead, we offer this personal missive to thank the people who accepted, assisted, and provided a place where Jerry Greenberg was happy and connected to such a caring, fantastic community.
The Florida Keys has always had more than its per capita share of legends, eccentrics, and characters. No wonder it was Jerry Greenberg’s happy place. Whether working 8 hours on a boat discovering and documenting the coral reefs (usually alone), at the editing table with his slides and loupes, at the presses ensuring his marine life publications remained superior, or delivering his beloved racks and boxes, his work ethic was unparalleled.
Jerry’s innovative genius spanned 70 years. Together with his wife Idaz, they created marine life publications that were scientifically correct, vibrantly beautiful, and were affordable for anyone to buy. To our knowledge, Jerry was the first photographer of underwater panoramas. He invented the underwater “kiss of flash” and shared his groundbreaking methods in his 1956 book “Underwater Photography Simplified.” When his equipment couldn’t do what he needed, he innovated the parts needed. He captured entire scenes that no one else could. How did he do this? Sometimes Jerry would first devise the story, then previsualize the images it would contain — sketching underwater scenes, complete with cropping and point of view. Another strategy was to sit quietly underwater and observe the environment as it unfolded, numerous cameras within reach, and capture in his mind’s eye what he saw. Then it was a matter of choosing the equipment to visually convey the peak of beauty — the patterns, and the scene, in an orderly way. In one shot he would achieve perfect timing, subject, and moment. He changed the way people saw the earth, and was instrumental in the effort to create and protect Pennekamp Park as the first underwater national park.
When he wasn’t herding schools of porkfish, he was patrolling the retail road, peppering shop owners and waitresses with sometimes unequal amounts of charm and demands. Jerry had a definite way of doing business. He whistled while he worked, he had his ditties, his shticks, his opinions, and his witty and sometimes controversial comments. His business was his pleasure. If you delighted in or even just tolerated his visits to your place of business, you made his day, and we thank you.
Jerry was a creature of habit and ritual. Along the road to his idea of perfection, he took time to mentor others. It’s in these interactions that his legacy is perhaps most poignant. Jerry enjoyed helping others learn about underwater photography, the business of photography and publishing, copyrights and artists’ rights, saving coral reefs, and probably whatever topic was in discussion upon his arrival. If you were the recipient of Jerry’s time and expertise, you should know that those interactions enriched his life and sense of purpose. He was a man who appreciated solitude, but being that source of knowledge and interest meant a great deal to him. Both he and we are thankful.
Jerry seemed as indestructible as an armored tank. He survived several bouts of cancer since the 1970s, but he had his issues with being a nonagenarian. He just wanted to be left alone and not be told what to do. This became increasingly difficult for us as he focused more on trying to work during a pandemic, and focused less on his own maintenance. He became more difficult. Many of you came to his aid during times of need. You were kind and selfless and the best community he could ever hope to have. Please bear with us as we try to fully express our appreciation for that kindness.
The Florida Keys are suffering in this pandemic. It has been heartbreaking for everyone who depended on this special place for their livelihood. Jerry was heartbroken as well. His great desire was to help rebuild the Keys economy. While Jerry didn’t live to see that comeback, son Michael, who will be running the family businesses, will see and be a part of that resurgence.
We had to take the Kosher Cousteau out of the Keys, but no one can ever take the reefs and people of the Keys out of the Kosher Cousteau. Please remember our father fondly, support local retailers selling his work, and consider sending a memory or nutty antic to [email protected] so we can smile and continue to be grateful for this mighty man of the sea.
With love and appreciation,
Michael Greenberg, Mimi Young, Idaz Greenberg, and the extended Greenberg family
Miami Herald obituary: tinyurl.com/y5vlqgar