“He had a way of disarming his subjects,” Bell said. “He was respectful of people and had a very calming sense of humor.”
Whiteside, 67, of Fort Washington, died April 24 due to complications from covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, his family said. He also suffered from thyroid problems and high blood pressure.
Bell said Whiteside worked in his retirement as an Uber driver and had started to become ill in March. He went to a doctor for a coronavirus test but was sent home without it. Within a few days, Bell said, his temperature spiked, and he drove himself to the VA Medical Center in Northwest Washington, where he was diagnosed with coronavirus.
His family said he was intubated, put on dialysis and suffered two strokes within two weeks. Bell said the family had “a moment” during his hospital stay to talk to him using FaceTime. “That gave us some sense of closure,” she said.
She added: “The whole covid-19 thing bothers us. We still can’t believe he’s gone.”
One of his daughters, Georgina Whiteside, said she wishes she could have seen her dad in his final moments.
“The virus has disrupted all the normalities of our lives,” she said. “I wish his passing was under different circumstances.”
Born in St. Louis, Whiteside was one of seven children. He became interested in photography during high school when he received a camera as a gift. He converted an extra bathroom into a dark room, Bell said.
After high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force and worked as a lab technician. He took aerial photographs that were used in mapping.
He left the military and worked briefly in a Ford motor plant in St. Louis before moving to the Washington area and starting a family. He had two daughters and was married until 2015.
In the District, Whiteside — known for always wearing hats — started a freelance photography business, taking photos at weddings and headshots of corporate executives. He went on to work for the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Bell said Whiteside would often turn on classical music when developing pictures in a dark room in their home and would later “run out and say, ‘What do you think? What do you think?’ ”
“He was like a kid at Christmas,” she said.
In 1999, Whiteside began working for the National Museum of the American Indian.
During his time at museum, he traveled with a small team of curators to a variety of places, from the West Coast to the Florida Everglades, as well as Mexico, the foothills of the Peruvian Andes and the outskirts of the Brazilian rainforest. He documented Native people, their reservations, villages and surrounding landscapes.
His work was a part of the District museum’s “inaugural exhibitions,” according to colleagues. He retired from the museum in 2014.
Cécile Ganteaume, a curator at the museum who worked with Whiteside for 14 years, said he was “very adept at moving from different situations.” She said she remembers Whiteside “clinging to the side of a mountain” in Mexico’s Sierra Madre range to get the view he wanted.
“His work at the museum was hugely important,” she said. “He chronicled the museum’s creation, and he did it so well.”
After Whiteside’s death, his family received condolences from people he had photographed in Native American communities. Many commented on “how respectful he was,” Bell said.
Mike Winston, Whiteside’s friend and next-door neighbor for 12 years, said they often talked politics and history.
“You could ask Roger a question about history on World War I or World War II, and he knew it,” Winston said. “He could tell me stories like a camp counselor and just keep your attention.”
After retiring from professional photography, Whiteside began driving for Uber about four years ago to earn extra money. When the pandemic hit the Washington region in March, Winston said he told Whiteside he should consider a pause on driving customers.
“He was trying to get Uber to make people he was picking up have to wear a mask,” Winston said. Winston said Whiteside wiped down his car after his Uber shifts.
When Whiteside ended up in the hospital, he called Winston to say he had contracted the coronavirus and developed covid-19.
“He was the first person I lost to covid,” Winston said. “That hurt me real bad.”