Our Industry Lost a Hero, and I Lost a Dear Friend
If you’ve been to the Photoshop World Conference, you probably recognize Adobe VP Winston Hendrickson from the many times he’s delivered Adobe’s opening keynote presentation to kick off the conference. That’s Winston above during the keynote in 2013, but even if you didn’t recognize him, you’ve felt his input, his influence, and his vision every time you launched Photoshop or Lightroom.
Winston was Adobe’s Vice President of Engineering for Photoshop and Lightroom, and he was the perfect person to be in that role because he used and loved those programs as much as we do. He was a brilliant sports photographer — a far better one than I’ll ever be — and he used Lightroom and Photoshop every day for his photography work. He was a true champion of the end user because he actually was an end user. He “got” us in a way I’ll bet few execs in America today could ever do.
He would fight for the new features, and improvements and speed boosts — the same ones we all wanted, and his drive, and his team, have made so many of those requests a reality over the years. I loved that when we sat down and talked about things that needed to be added or addressed or fixed in Photoshop or Lightroom, he didn’t defend them; he didn’t excuse them — instead he set out to fix them or to add them, and he had the power and will to do it, and the team that could make it happen. He was the kind of guy you wanted behind such important products, and him being in that role really made a difference.
I was heartbroken to learn this weekend that after waging such a brave battle against an incredibly tough form of cancer, he passed away. He faced that fight with an attitude, strength, courage, and sense of humor throughout that was truly inspiring to everyone around him. His passing caught us all by surprise because his on-going coverage and witty writing style (on his CaringBridge blog) made you feel certain that any day this would be behind him, and he’d be back on the sidelines at a Falcons game, or up on stage at a Photoshop World. My heart sank when I read the news. One of my heroes at Adobe, and one of my dear friends and sidelines buddy was gone. He’s younger than me and gone far, far too soon.
I could tell you so many stories about what an awesome person Winston was. How he stayed up crazy late on the phone giving me advice when I really needed it, or how we’d talk for hours about football gear and settings and lenses (and how I tried to tell him how much he’d regret hand-holding a 200-400mm for an entire NFL game). I could tell you great stories about how he genuinely looked out for Adobe customers, how he even looked out for friends and colleagues, and how much he loved his wife and family, and how proud he was of his daughter’s softball skills and how much he loved traveling with her team.
Anyone who knew him could tell you how humble, funny, laid back, and down to earth, he was. He could make anybody feel comfortable around him, and if you met him for five minutes, you felt like you had known him forever. No pretense. Not an ounce of “bragging” in him. When you were with him, you lost all sense that you were with one of the top minds in our industry. He was just “one of the guys,” and I loved that about him. I could fill pages with stories about him, and our times together, but instead, as a tribute to Winston, I’d like to share a very special story. It’s about what Winston told me was one of the greatest days of his life, and I was blessed to be a small part of it, and watch it all unfold.
Our story starts in Atlanta
A few years back, at a Photoshop World Conference in Atlanta, some friends of mine from the Atlanta Falcons NFL team were at the conference, and I had told them what a lights-out sport shooter Winston was (thanks to his many years of shooting his daughter’s college softball team. His timing and technique were pro level). Well, I got the opportunity to introduce them at the conference, and my friend Michael Benford (Creative Director of the Falcons, seen next to Winston in the shot above) invited Winston to come shoot a Falcons NFL game on the sidelines.
Well, he was thrilled at the opportunity, and he also made the most of it — shooting like a pro and garnering an open invitation to shoot for the Falcons any time, and sure enough, he wound up covering a number of games for them, in Atlanta and on the road, too.
When we’d be shooting a Falcons game together, in-between plays we’d talk about big picture Photoshop and Lightroom stuff, and I was always bending his ear about feature requests, or things our members would like to see added under the hood, and we’d wind up just talking about everything from cameras to cars, too. We laughed a lot, shot a lot of pictures, but when he shared his Picks after the shoot, I was always amazed at his timing and how many “keepers” he got during the game. He nailed a lot of shots I totally missed. Winston was really talented, and he could have been shooting on assignment for any sports wire service, newspaper, or magazine. He was that good.
I learned something about Winston I never knew
One night over dinner, this Californian revealed something I never knew — he had been a lifelong Dolphins fan. I think saying “fan” is underplaying it a bit. He was a raging Dolphins fanatic! Despite not being from Miami, or even Florida, the Dolphins were the team he grew up following and loving, and he knew every player, every stat, and every piece of trivia from the Dolphins famous 1972 miracle undefeated season. Well, as luck would have it, my buddy Rob Foldy shoots for the Dolphins, and he had invited me to come down sometime and shoot a game with the Dolphins photo crew (Surf, Jon, Brandon, and Jeff). After dinner I called Rob and asked if there was any way that Winston could join me for that sideline shoot. After a few calls, Rob got it approved (Rob already knew Winston from meeting him at a few Bucs games he covered for the Falcons down here in Tampa, so he was already “buds” with Winston, and more than happy to make it all happen).
Game Day in Miami
The night before, Winston treated Rob, the Dolphins photo crew, and me to a wonderful dinner near the stadium and we basically closed the place – staying up late talking football and photography, until they nearly threw us out. Winston was super psyched (to say the least), and the great guys on the Dolphins crew were nearly as excited to see someone so tickled about this opportunity. Just one of those great nights you don’t forget, but this was only the beginning.
We got to the stadium early
Winston couldn’t even make it from the parking lot to the stadium without stopping every 50 yards to get another picture of Hard Rock Stadium. He was all grins, and we kept busting his chops as sports guys are known to do when one of the guys can’t stop smiling from ear to ear. We get inside the stadium, and the Dolphin’s guys and Rob give us a tour of the newly renovated stadium (and it was pretty sweet). We’re getting a tour of one of the VIP clubs (which this early before the game, was practically empty) when up steps Dolphins Hall of Famer, Larry Little to welcome us (and yes, he was wearing his Hall of Fame jacket). Winston recognized him immediately, and the two stood there sharing stories for 20 solid minutes. Larry was so gracious and kind, and funny, and I think if we hadn’t dragged Winston away, we probably would have missed kick off. As we were finally walking away, Winston looks over at me, and says, “I can’t believe I just met Larry Little. I can’t believe it! He was so nice! I can’t believe what just happened!” He was on cloud nine.
It was a perfect day — perfect weather — we’re at the stadium nice and early, and he just met one of his childhood heroes. It can’t get better than this, right? ;-)
A Field of Dreams
Winston, Rob and I headed up high into the stands to take some shots of the still empty stadium from up high (that’s one of Winston’s shots above). Then we headed down to the field as soon as some of the Dolphin’s players started to take the field for warmups. After a few minutes, the stadium is open; fans are starting to stream in, and they’re cranking the music down on the field. There’s a buzz — an electricity in the air, and there’s Winston, in the middle of “Dolphin-land” and he looks like a kid in a candy store. Huge grin; he’s taking some shots of the Dolphins warming up, and one of the Dolphin’s photo crew comes up; taps Winston on the shoulder and says, “Want to take a photo with the coach?”
We turn around, and behind us, just a few feet away on the sidelines, sitting in a golf cart is the one and only Don Shula – the legendary Dolphin’s Coach — and yes, the coach of that miracle 1972 Dolphin’s team. Winston was speechless (for about two seconds) as they walked him over to meet “The Coach” and Winston and Don chatted for a few minutes about the old team, and today’s game, and then I got this photo of them together. This was truly a magic moment, and I was just thrilled to be there to see it.
When they parted, and Winston walked back over to me, he laughed and said, “I just met Don Shula.” Then he stood there with the biggest smile. I don’t think even for a second that Winston thought he might meet Shula in person, but he did, on the sidelines of a Dolphin’s game he was getting to shoot. It doesn’t get better than that! Actually, it does.
While Winston is still reeling from meeting Shula, one of the guys comes up again and says, ‘Hey, want to meet Dan Marino? He’s right here.” Winston turns around, and there is Marino — Dolphin’s Hall of Famer QB and another of Winston’s heroes. That look on Winston’s face says it all.
Dolphins game time
Before you knew it, it was game time. We covered the player intros (through the smoke and fire), and then it was kickoff, and we all went to our different positions on the field and started shooting. Because it was “that kind of day” for Winston, of course, the Dolphins won. Winston once again shot “lights out,” and he shared his Picks from the game over at his SmugMug page. I captured a few for you below so you can get a sense of what a talented shooter he truly was, and why teams were so happy to have him shooting for them on their sidelines.
I knew Winston would want a few pics of him shooting on a day like this, so in between plays I’d grab a shot or two, and I wanted to share them with you here (below).
After the game, as we’re packing up, and he can’t stop grinning from ear to ear, I asked him “So, how was your day.” He just laughed, “It was OK.” As we’re walking out to the car, he thanked me again and again for helping him get this opportunity, and he said, without a doubt, it was absolutely one of the best days of his life. I know a lot of people say something like that, but in this case, I believed him. However, I was just blessed to be there and to have seen it happen, but it was Rob Foldy and the gracious crew of the Dolphins that truly brought Winston such a magical day.
I will always miss Winston. He was just one hell of a guy. A friend and mentor — immensely talented and humble to a fault. You can ask anybody who knew him, inside Adobe or on the sidelines — he was a Hall of Famer in his own right. He was one of the greats.