Gay photographer Donald Eckert dies

  • by Cynthia Laird
  • Wednesday May 25, 2016
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Donald Charles Eckert, who was a longtime photographer of gay life in the Castro, died May 16 in Florida. He was 74.

A cause of death wasn't provided in an obituary his family posted online.

Mr. Eckert, a gay man, ran Uncle Donald's Castro Street, a website with nearly 1,000 photos taken by him and other photographers, of the Castro social scene, 1970s gay Pride parades, and Harvey Milk, who was a friend of Mr. Eckert's. According to his family's obituary, posted on the Cox-Gifford Seawinds Funeral Home website, Mr. Eckert took a photo of Milk shaking hands with President Jimmy Carter that was used in the 1984 Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk.

Photographer Dan Nicoletta, who used to work in Milk's Castro Camera shop and is another well-known chronicler of Milk, said that Mr. Eckert enjoyed covering the emerging LGBT movement.

"Don was one of the people who loved hanging out at Castro Camera shooting the breeze with me and Harvey and Scott Smith (Milk's lover)," Nicoletta wrote in a Facebook message to the Bay Area Reporter . "The famous photo of Harvey shaking President Jimmy Carter's hand is by Don, but his connection goes further back to Harvey's first supervisorial campaign. Don's portrait of Harvey with medium length wild hippie hair appears on the commemorative panel at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro."

Nicoletta also praised Mr. Eckert's website.

"He was a very sweet man, willing to get involved, and the care he put into Uncle Donald's Castro website is mind boggling," Nicoletta said. "I recommend people pay it a visit in case the family elects not to sustain it. There is a lot to learn there."

Mr. Eckert traveled all over the world. He attended the Gay Games in San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, Amsterdam, and Sidney.

His family said that when Levi's opened its new store in San Francisco, the company purchased the rights to four of Mr. Eckert's photos of men on the street in their Levi's and used them in the grand opening.

Mr. Eckert was born June 7, 1941 in Elizabeth, New Jersey to the late Joseph F. and Matilda Schmidt Eckert. He attended Marist College and then Newark College of Engineering. On his website, Mr. Eckert wrote that he discovered San Francisco in 1969 when an electronics company he was working for in Washington, D.C. sent him to the city for a five-month project.

"When it was over, I went back east, quit my job, said goodbye to my family in New Jersey, bought a VW bus, and headed west to a new life," Mr. Eckert wrote on Uncle Donald's Castro Street.

He lived on Haight Street for a time, volunteering at what was then the Haight-Ashbury Switchboard and Free Clinic. He moved to the Castro in 1972.

He studied photography at City College of San Francisco, he said on his website, and he converted the back porch of his Henry Street apartment into a darkroom.

In 2013, Mr. Eckert moved to Vero Beach, Florida to help take care of his mother, who was 98, before her passing. His family said that he discovered the McKee Botanical Garden and became a volunteer there.

In addition to his parents, Mr. Eckert was predeceased by his brother, Robert J. Eckert. He is survived by his sister, Marilyn Mulhall of Vero Beach; nephew Timothy and Sharlene Mulhall; great-nephews Michael, Donovan, and Brendan, all of Forked River, New Jersey; niece MaryBeth and Joseph Colosi of Manchester, New Jersey, and many friends.

A celebration of life was held May 23 at McKee Botanical Garden.

Donations in his memory can be made to McKee Botanical Garden (, the Harvey Milk Foundation (, or VNA Hospice House, 901 37th Street, Vero Beach, Florida 32960.

To visit Uncle Donald's Castro Street, go to