Steven Eliot Horn | Passages

April 21, 1949 – April 22, 2024

Our beloved Steve died peacefully in his sleep in the early morning of April 22nd, Earth Day, the day after his 75th birthday. Thanks to Hamlet House, he was able to make this passage while still living on Lopez, his spiritual and physical home of 53 years. His last week was miraculous — enveloped in friendship at a shared 75th birthday party with Stanley Greenthal, a dear friend since age 6, time with brother Steve (Petegorsky) who flew in from the East Coast, and on his last full day on earth deeply touched by tributes and memories gathered from friends and family by daughter, Laurel. What a remarkable ending after five years of progressive symptoms associated with Cerebellar Ataxia, Neuropathy, Vestibular Areflexia Syndrome (CANVAS).

Steve had an unwavering will to live; he relished riding his recumbent trike right up to the end, even with a broken neck and ribs. More than once, he said, “as long as I have breath, I have something to be grateful for.” When asked what he wanted to do on his birthday, he said “kayaking” — and he wasn’t kidding. Former physicians reached out to us to share condolences; each shared that he was one of the most remarkable patients they had ever worked with — truly facing progressive loss with positive energy and gratitude for what he was still able to do. Steve always sought to explore, document, and share the story of light, even amidst the dark, whether that be of the human spirit, a Yosemite sunrise, the moon, the Mostar bridge, or at times the spill of the day. He faced personal dark places with enormous courage and integrity. He wrote, “always there was some flicker of determination to survive the experience and transform it, to find my way back to the light.” This was true to the end. A Leonard Cohen quote lived above his desk, “There’s cracks, cracks in everything — and that’s how the light gets in.”

Steve grew up in Scarsdale, New York. He started documenting family road trips at age six using a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera. At 19, he studied with renowned American Photographer Paul Caponigro. After graduating from Amherst, Steve came to Lopez in 1972 to visit Stanley for a week. A month later, still here, he bought land in Hooterville and began building a home. After six years, he returned East where he spent time as a fine woodworker, teacher, and peace activist. He met Polly in Cambridge, MA through the recommendation of a Lopez friend, who had taught with her in Cambridge. They married in 1981 and moved to Lopez. A daughter, Laurel, was born in 1986. After continuing carpentry, Steve followed his passion for documentary photography, capturing landscapes, the local community, and eventually photographing weddings and large events in the San Juans, Seattle area, and beyond.

In 1970, Steve converted a VW bus into a darkroom and photographed the former Yugoslavia as a “field study” for his thesis at Amherst. He returned to Bosnia in 2003, after the devastating war. He was able to find people whom he had photographed as children, who had lost everything in the war, forging enduring connections as he shared photographs he had taken of them living daily life. “The photographs became their only childhood pictures…Finally, I had a sense of completion — my photographs had reached their true destination. Not as art, but as stories of life — as testaments to people and places whose identity was threatened.” This powerful experience was captured in Steve’s book, Pictures without Borders, Bosnia Revisited, published in 2005.

Steve was blessed with grandchildren, Lyla and Tobin, who brought immense joy; he ensured they inherited the family trait of humor. He had the gift of a visit with them two weeks before he died.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Polly Ham of Lopez, WA, daughter, Laurel Elgin (Tom Elgin), grandchildren, Lyla and Tobin Elgin of Berkeley, CA; brothers, Jeffrey Horn (Eileen Horn) of Manhattan, NY, Stephen Petegorsky (Elizabeth Petegorsky) of Florence, MA, Dan Petegorsky (Roberta Delaney) of Portland, OR; nieces, Polly Snyder (John Snyder) and children, Lily and Hale of Washington, D.C., and Sarah Wolfgang (Mel Wolfgang) and children, Finn and Miles of Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA; and nephew, Michael Petegorsky (Zoe Bëllars) and daughter, Lily of Austin, TX.

We will have a celebration of his life later this summer on Lopez.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in Steve’s honor to one of the organizations that made this journey a bit easier along the way: The National Ataxia Foundation, Lopez Island Hospice and Home Support, Hamlet House, The Evergreen Chapter of the ALS Association, Compassionate Care ALS, and Hospice of the Northwest.