Peter Anthony Silva died Tuesday, October 22, 2019, after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Peter, 76, was a native son of Manhattan, Kansas who would become a noted American photojournalist whose work was recognized by his peers for its sensitivity and scope.
He was born on May 7, 1943 to Pedro and Erlinda Silva, and lived in a loving home with his older brother Robert and, later, younger sister Catherine. As a young man, he served as an altar boy at Seven Dolors Catholic Church and rose to the rank of Life Scout in the Boy Scouts. He graduated from Monsignor Luckey High School in 1961, and went on to study architecture at Kansas State University. In March, 1967, he was called up by the U.S. Navy Reserves to active duty, serving in Iceland and at sea aboard the USS Vesole. He was honorably discharged from active duty in October, 1968 with the naval rating of Petty Officer Third Class. He would go on to serve several more years in the Reserves. Upon returning home, he joined the photography staff at The Manhattan Mercury, putting the self-taught skills he had learned as a teenager to work.
In 1973, he became a staff photographer at The Palm Beach Post in Florida, a newspaper known nationally for its excellent photo department and staffed with several award-winning photographers. Peter excelled there, also, winning Southern Photographer of the Year in 1974, a prize granted by the Southern Short Course, one of the oldest photojournalism institutions in the nation, for producing a year of excellence in news photography. He also met his lifetime companion and wife of some 47 years at the Post, writer Hilary Hylton Silva. Their first assignment together was to produce a Sunday length feature story on the weekend recreational activities of a motorcycle gang who had complained to the newspaper that they were being wrongly portrayed in the news as a gang, while their checking account clearly labelled them as the “Stormtroopers Motorcycle Club.” It was a running joke between Peter and Hilary that they had been introduced to each other by Stormtrooper President Charlie “Fat Rat” Haley.
Peter and Hilary went on to work at The Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Texas where Peter would win one of journalism’s most prestigious prizes, The Robert F. Kennedy Award given for outstanding coverage of the disadvantaged. The award recognized his work on a series of stories dubbed “The Outsiders” which focused on the dismal state of health care among the poor in South Texas. He was given a bust of the late Robert F. Kennedy marked with a plaque honoring his work by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy at a ceremony at the Hickory Hill, the Washington-area home of Kennedy’s widow, Ethel. Peter went on to became photo editor at The Austin American-Statesman in 1977. During his newspaper career he also won numerous other awards from the National Press Photographers Association, the Associated Press Managing Editors competition, and the Texas Headliners Club.
After leaving the Austin paper, Peter pursued a freelance career and was a founding contributor to Zuma Press, a leading global photo agency created and headed by Scott McKiernan, and dedicated to showcasing the world’s best photojournalism. Peter’s 50 plus year archive is filled with photographs of the famous and the infamous, the poor and downtrodden, headline makers and celebrities, sports giants in victory and athletes dealing with defeat. It includes photo essays of the joys and challenges of daily life, Mexican pilgrimages, Florida sawgrass hunters, South Texas farmworker marches, cadets at West Point, political campaigns of all stripes, NASA space shots, and celebrations and disasters all portrayed with an eye on the human condition. From their base in Austin, Peter and Hilary travelled widely, and he amassed a large photo archive of historic Mexican archaeological and historical sites. Peter covered Texas and national politics and breaking news with a passion and, despite his gentle personality, was known for his tough, get-the-shot approach in photo “scrums.” But his eye also captured the near and dear, pictures of tomatoes and peppers in his garden, bees landing on a cactus flower, a breeze wafting a curtain in old beach cabin, and an unknown quantity of cat and dog pictures of his beloved companions.
Peter was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012 and kept it at bay until very recently, thanks to the excellent care he received from the Veterans Administration hospitals in Austin and Temple, Texas. He participated in several drug studies that not only helped him, but also, he hoped would help others in the fight against cancer. He died very shortly after being admitted to hospice care at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple, Texas. News of his passing prompted those who had known him, from nurses and doctors, journalists and neighbors, friends and family to note what a gentle and good man he was.
He was predeceased by his parents, Pedro and Erlinda, and his nephew Chris. Survivors include his wife Hilary; his older brother Robert L. Silva and his wife Teresa of Pico Rivera, California; his younger sister Catherine Silva, M.D. of Leavenworth, Kansas and her husband Chris Haller, M.D.; and nieces and nephews, including Robert’s children, Steven, Melynn, Aubree, R.J., Matthew and Ethan, and Catherine’s three children, Linda, Tom and Joe.
A celebration of his life will be held at 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 22 at the Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home in Manhattan.
Mass of Christian Burial will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, November 23 at Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Manhattan, and, following the service, he will be buried with veteran’s honors at Sunrise Cemetery in Manhattan amid several generations of Silvas, Guillens, and Garibays, his large, extended family.
Throughout his life Peter was an animal-lover devoted to his cats and dogs. In lieu of flowers, the family would urge anyone wishing to mark his passing to remember him by donating to a no-kill shelter in their community, including the Riley County Humane Society, P.O. Box 1202, Manhattan KS 66505. (Donations also can made online at rchsks.org, or left at the funeral home at the celebration of life, and noted “In memory of Peter A. Silva.”) One more way to honor his memory would be to pause and look around, observe and take note of the world the way he did, with compassion, humor, and a keen eye for the world’s wonders, large and small, near home or faraway, and to focus on the common threads of humanity that bind us.
The Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home, 1616 Poyntz Avenue, Manhattan, Kansas 66502 is assisting the family with the funeral arrangements.