Patrick Hamilton, ex-AP and Reuters photographer who covered Central American wars, dies at 74

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FILE - A Guatemalan woman, showing signs of severe malnutrition, lies on a cot at a makeshift clinic in a refugee camp on the outskirts of China, Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, July 7, 1984. Pat Hamilton, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who covered the civil wars in Central America as a photojournalist for The Associated Press, and who later worked at Reuters covering the Gulf War in Iraq, died Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 74. (AP Photo/Pat Hamilton, File)

SAN ANTONIO – Patrick Hamilton, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who covered civil wars in Central America as a photojournalist for The Associated Press and later worked at Reuters covering the first Gulf War in Iraq, has died after a long struggle with cancer.

He died at age 74 Sunday at home in San Antonio.

Hamilton’s experience in Vietnam served him well in Central America during the 1980s and then with Reuters, for which he covered Operation Desert Storm in 1990.

Colleagues remembered him as a gentle professional who was cool under pressure and as someone they wanted at their side in conflict zones like El Salvador and Nicaragua.

“When I drove around in a war zone in northern Nicaragua with a guy like Hamilton sitting shotgun, I had a sense of security that I did not enjoy if riding around with some everyday John Doe,” photojournalist and author Bill Gentile wrote in his memoir, “Wait for Me.”

"Pat had seen war as a Marine combatant in Vietnam and those experiences in some ways prepared him to return to war; but this time with a different weapon, a camera, and a different mission — to show the world both the horrors of war itself and the quiet dignity of so many whose lives were upended or ruined," said Santiago Lyon, former AP vice president and director of photography.

Before joining AP in Mexico City in 1979, Hamilton was a photographer at the San Antonio Express-News. One of his most famous photos was of President Gerald Ford in front of the Alamo biting into a tamale with the shuck still on. Analysts said the blunder caused Ford to lose Texas — and possibly the presidency, with the state's electoral votes going to Jimmy Carter.

Hamilton was with AP until 1985 and joined Reuters later that year. He left Reuters in 1991 and was hired as photo editor at a Texas newspaper, the McAllen Monitor, where he mentored younger photographers.

“I learned so much from Patrick. As a young photojournalist I was intrigued by his stint with the AP Mexico City and his coverage of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and the other tumult in Central America,” McAllen Monitor photographer Delcia Lopez said in a Facebook post.

Lopez said Hamilton also taught by showing pictures he had gathered from various photographers.

“I remember Patrick showing me a collection of his amazing black and white photos. There was one photo that stuck with me, the photo of Cuban president Fidel Castro having a drink with author Ernest Hemingway,” Lopez said.

An avid reader, in later years Hamilton taught English literature at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, where he finished his bachelor’s degree and obtained a master’s degree in English.

He is survived by his wife of 44 years, the former Sylvia Browne, whom he met in Managua, Nicaragua, while she was standing in line at the U.S. Embassy to help a friend get a visa.

“There was a long line for visas and all the photographers and reporters came. I saw something I liked and smiled, and he approached me,” she recounted.

He is also survived by the couple's three children, Patrick R. Hamilton, Michael M. Hamilton and Alina M. Hamilton, and three granddaughters.