Mourning Matt Durham – West Seattle photojournalist, firefighter, dad

If you knew Matt Durham at all – even a bit – he seemed like the last guy who could be felled by a terminal illness. Strong, active, positive outlook …

But cancer plays no favorites.

The West Seattle photojournalist (whose work in the past few years included WSB contributions), whose main job was as a Woodinville firefighter, is dead of melanoma, at just 45 years old.

Matt died yesterday. While his wife Elaine Durham announced it on their Facebook pages last night, they are not public, and we wanted to wait until she gave her approval, which she did late today, to share the news. She and their sons, 9 and 11, had just spent Christmas Eve/Day with Matt at Swedish Medical Center. If you were among their Facebook friends, you have probably followed along with their brave story for the past few months, since Matt himself announced the diagnosis on his page in September.

As it was a private matter, we hadn’t written about it before, but earlier this week, with Elaine’s permission, we had a story in the works regarding a benefit planned by Matt’s fellow firefighters in the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District (which gave us permission to use their photo of Matt) on January 13th, after this Woodinville Weekly article appeared, and after a flyer about it started circulating in West Seattle.

We never got to publish that story before Matt lost his fight against the metastatized melanoma discovered less than four months ago. He will be missed by many throughout West Seattle, Woodinville, and beyond. You can see some of his photos on his photography site at Once we have word on memorial-service plans, we will publish an update.

ADDED EARLY SATURDAY: The Woodinville department says it is classifying Matt’s death as line-of-duty; that drew regional media attention, including this KING 5 report late Friday night.

29 Replies to "Mourning Matt Durham - West Seattle photojournalist, firefighter, dad"

  • Peggy Van Aller December 31, 2010 (6:47 pm)

    Having lost my husband to pancreatic cancer in 2007, at the young age of 42, I only know too well the pain and heartache his wife is going thru. My heart just goes out to her and the children as they go thru the next few days, weeks and months.

  • justcuz December 31, 2010 (6:50 pm)

    Oh no. I remember Matt from PTA meetings long ago and always enjoyed seeing his photos later. I’m so sorry to hear the news. Peace.

  • Joe December 31, 2010 (6:54 pm)

    Matt will truly be missed. He was a great family man. Always laughing, always spending time with his wife Elaine and sons Jack and Sam, always enthusiastic… Matt and his family took family martial arts lessons at Lee’s Martial Arts. Our entire LMA family will miss Matt. Our hearts go out to Elaine, Jack, and Sam.

    God Bless.

    Joe & Lisa

  • miws December 31, 2010 (7:18 pm)

    How incredibly shocking and sad. I really enjoyed Matt’s photos over the years.


    Sincerest condolences to Elaine and the boys. They’re around the same age my older Brother and I were when our Mom died at age 38, from melanoma, many many years ago. He was 11, I was 8.


    Wishing them peace and comfort in the new year.



  • add December 31, 2010 (7:19 pm)

    Oh, I am so sorry to hear this. I didn’t know Matt very well but we crossed paths often and he was always friendly and smiling. My thoughts are with his family, what a sad time for them.

  • JanS December 31, 2010 (7:24 pm)

    As a cancer survivor, this breaks my heart. It’s a beast of a disease, and never, ever plays fair. My heart goes out to his wife, children, and family.

  • E4M December 31, 2010 (7:53 pm)

    A great man who gave much to many.

  • Paul December 31, 2010 (8:00 pm)

    Sorry to hear of this…too sad and too quick. Such a positive guy. He will be missed. Be well Durhams.

  • christopherboffoli December 31, 2010 (8:18 pm)

    I was shocked when I learned recently that Matt was sick and I was deeply saddened to hear that he had died. I can’t say that I knew Matt very well. I probably encountered him about four or five times while covering stories for the WSB. But somehow, mostly due to the kind of person Matt was, when I did see him it was always as if I was bumping into someone I had known since childhood. And I’m sure that I only met Matt at all because he took the initiative to introduce himself to me to say kind things about my work.
    Photojournalists have a reputation for being competitive. But Matt was the antithesis of that notion simply because he was so genuine and kind. The last saw him was when we were covering at fire up at Stewart Manor in High Point in September of 2009. We were shooting side by side and essentially ended up with the same images. When I saw that the Seattle Times published one of his photos I was genuinely delighted for him.
    The guy was built like a superhero, so fitting for a man who chose a profession which consisted of putting his own life at risk in order to help other people. So perhaps it is all the more unsettling that someone so strong could be taken in the prime of his youth.
    I’m not sure if I believe in destiny. But I do think that the people who happen upon us in our lives all offer us an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. If we’re receptive to it, the whole dynamic of paths crossing and being affected by the people we meet can leave us profoundly changed. I consider it a privilege that I was one of the people who knew Matt, however briefly, and I’m left knowing that my life was enriched by the experience. He will be missed and he will not be forgotten.

  • Prole December 31, 2010 (8:20 pm)

    WSB, please let us know how we can help.
    I would love to drop off a hot meal somewhere, if possible.
    I’ve talked to Matt and Elaine a few times at the Y or Bikram yoga, and my heart goes out to this sweet family. They are in our thoughts.
    Stefanie and Mike

  • Carrie Ann December 31, 2010 (8:56 pm)

    I did not know Matt personally, but was well aware of him through numerous mutual friends and his many wonderful photographic contributions to the blog and elsewhere. My sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends he left behind. He will be sorely missed.

  • islewrite December 31, 2010 (9:44 pm)

    Matt was my dear friend and coworker for many years. What few folks know is what a blessing he was to Tim St. Clair of the West Seattle Herald, who died several years ago of pancreatic cancer. Matt would take his son Jack along and visit with Tim–who lived alone–doing some dishes, changing sheets, and making sure Tim was comfortable and cared for as long as he was able to remain at home. Matt was the kindest and most generous–not to mention the most FIT–man I’ve ever known. He and Elaine welcomed me for Christmas Dinner several years ago…I can’t believe what has come to pass. What a privilege it was to know him and to laugh with him. His laugh was the best!

  • Jennifer December 31, 2010 (9:51 pm)

    So sad, my Grandpa died of Melanoma in 2003

  • miws December 31, 2010 (11:04 pm)

    KOMO TV News just ran a story on Matt.


    They talked with some of his Woodinville FD co-workers.



  • Dano Beal December 31, 2010 (11:34 pm)

    While so much is being said of Matt’s contributions as a firefighter and photo journalist, I can tell you that his finest talents can be found in the role of father to his two boys.
    I have had the pleasure of knowing this wonderful family for a number of years… They are members of our Lafayette Elementary School community… I am sure I speak for the entire Lafayette staff, extending our heartfelt thoughts to Elaine and the boys.
    Matt’s most obvious passion has always been sharing life’s color, spirit, laughter and adventure with his sons… So I believe his biggest contribution lies just where it ought to…. In the memories and lessons that will always be with the boys.

    Many thanks to Matt for the many photos, the volunteering, and the happy, laughing presence he has brought to so many.

  • Mama Lisa January 1, 2011 (7:13 am)

    R.I.P. Matt

  • Tim McMonigle January 1, 2011 (11:06 am)

    Matt was very kind to us after our house fire in 2003. He shared the photos he took of our house and the firefighters after the fire. We ran into him regularly since then, and he was always with his boys, and always ready to share a conversation as soon as he saw us.

    Matt was a very quality guy and my wife and I are shocked to hear of his passing. Our prayers are with his family.

  • Tim & Carol Winston January 1, 2011 (1:06 pm)

    As others have noted, you didn’t have to meet Matt very many times to be influenced by his infectious attitude.

    We got to know him a bit as he covered Hi-Yu festival and Chief Sealth music events. Matt didn’t just cover events, his presence made them better.

    Elaine has done the souvenir book design the last 2 years.

    Our prayers & condolences to Elaine & the boys.

  • elinor saunders January 1, 2011 (1:32 pm)

    As I read the comments about Matts life, I am reminded of his many gifts. He spoke to people in so many different ways. Being kind, considerate, helpful, thoughtful, talented, witty,
    honest, warm, reflective were just part of his nature. For being intensly passionate about life, he was so laid back! I guess for me, I am reminded that it isn’t what people do,– it is the essence in their soul while they are doing it that makes the moment so special. You are one of a kind Matt and we are all better as a result of knowing you.

  • Teresa Stanker January 1, 2011 (4:53 pm)

    I had the honor of working with Matt for three years at the Herald, and I’m deeply saddened by his passing. He was not only a gifted photographer, but always a pleasure to see as he dropped into the office for an assignment or with a new set of standalones. He always with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. And the days he’d bring Jack along with him were particularly special.

  • 2011 January 1, 2011 (5:30 pm)

    I’m so sorry for this incredible loss. Thanks Matt for your service in so many ways. We pray for your family and their safe keeping.

  • Doug January 1, 2011 (10:02 pm)

    Putting 2 and 2 together, I now realize that it was Matt who took some pics of me climbing around on the wall at camp long one day a couple years back. He struck me as a really nice guy with a lot of positive energy, very open.

    Rest in peace Matt, Im glad I met you.


  • Doug January 2, 2011 (3:10 am)

    I’m the same age, similar circumstances. To think it could happen to me and my family, well, you’ve go to be tough just to roll with the punches but to have this happen, it’s so disturbing, why would a “creator” let it happen. I used to not understand it, but I understand one thing, life isn’t fair, perhaps it’s why we created an after life.

  • nancy January 2, 2011 (9:40 am)

    About 2 years ago I ordered one of Matt’s photographs that I saw on the blog….when I called to ask some questions about ordering, etc, we had such a nice conversation and I thought to myself what a quality young man he was and so full of life! I am saddened by this news and my heart goes out to his wife and boys,,,,my sincere condolences.

  • Gussychairs January 2, 2011 (1:41 pm)

    So moved by his death — and even more so by the stories of his LIFE. What a terrible loss. I am so sorry.

  • Molly January 2, 2011 (10:04 pm)

    I very much miss Matt’s smile and warmth at the YMCA. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

  • Eliza January 3, 2011 (11:03 am)

    I first met Matt when he took Jack to the fishing derby for Hi-Yu some ten years ago now, we was so attentive and excited for Jack who caught his first little fish. It was one of the highlights of my year participating in Hi-Yu. After that first meeting I would run into him from time to time around West Seattle, the princess awe quickly wore off Jack but Matt was always keen to talk about the new excitements of his life – Sam, his work, and was always so kind to ask about what I was up to.

    He was really an awesome person, a very loving father who adored his kids and wife and was just an interested person all around.
    I am so sorry to hear this news and we as a community will feel this loss.

  • Tom January 3, 2011 (2:08 pm)

    I first met Matt a few years ago when I was coaching Sam in YMCA basketball. Matt had no experience coaching or playing, but really wanted to help out and participate. He showed up with passion, heart and a great attitude.
    We ran into each other often over the past few years thru baseball and basketball. The moment I remember most was when he was so exicted to tell me he was coaching. He was so happy to have “made it” to that level and ran me thru all the great experiences he was having, and of course the wonderful challenges that he was working thru.
    Matt, I will miss seeing you on the sidelines. I am sure you will still be there watching. Sam, Jack and Elaine – I am so deeply sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers.

  • Sandy January 7, 2011 (7:55 pm)

    My most poignant memory of Matt was when he first went into the firefighting service–he was so excited that it meant spending quality time with his boys. He was very community minded, and did many photo shoots for ArtsWest at no charge. He said that he was not a theater person, but he felt strongly that the theater was a vital part of the community and he wanted to give back. I will especially miss seeing him at the local Y doing his weight lifting workout, looking up to see me and giving me his infectious smile. Rest in peace, Matt.

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