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Obituary: Richard Mills

28 July 2008 - EPUK

The body of photographer Richard Mills was yesterday flown home after the photographer was found dead in his hotel room while on assignment for the Times in Zimbabwe.

While Richard Mills died almost two weeks ago, EPUK, in line with other news organisations, had agreed to a request to not report on his death until his body was returned to his home in Northern Ireland. Early unconfirmed reports suggested that his death may have been suicide.

His funeral is to be held on Tuesday 29th July at 3pm at the Roselawn Crematorium, Ballygowan Road in Belfast. His family have said that his fellow photographers are welcome to attend.

Colleagues and friends of the popular photographer told EPUK that they were shocked by the news of his death and said that the “gentleman” would be sadly missed.

Richard Mills, photographed last year by his colleague Paul McErlane.

“He’d only been working for a short time, but he’d seen a lifetime within seven years” said his friend and colleague Paul McErlane. “There’s nowhere he hadn’t been. He’d turn up on jobs with us, and his cameras told it all: while ours where shiny and just slightly scuffed, his were battered from having used them in places where you barely have time to wipe dust of the lens.”


Richard Mills had built a short but distinguished career as a photographer able to produce pictures from difficult places. He was on his third visit to Zimbabwe, working without accreditation, in a country where western media are either strictly monitored or banned from reporting.

On an earlier visit to the country in March, Mills had come across a seven-year-old Zimbabwe girl Sarudzai Gumbo who was suffering from a number of different AIDS-related illnesses.

With the help of a campaign by the Times, enough money was raised to move her to her properly equipped hospital, but she died shortly afterwards.

Becoming an editorial photographer

Mills began his career as an RAF photographer based at RAF Cosford, where he spent thirteen years, rising to the rank of corporal. During his time there, he met his wife Zoe, now a squadron leader in the RAF, during a hockey tournament in which they were both competing.

In 2000 he left the service and began working as a commercial photographer. However, with news photography as his main aim, he contacted the Irish News in 2001 and arranged work experience, looking to break into the editorial market.

“He was meant to be here for one week’s work experience, and ended up staying for three”, recalls photographer Brendan Murphy, who at the time was working as picture editor at the Irish News.

“Richard was already an established photographer when he contacted me through a mutual friend, and he produced some very good pictures while here. He was an excellent photographer, and a wonderful guy. He loved photography, and had a natural instinct for a good picture”

“War photographer”

Mills’ time at the Irish News co-incided with several momentous events in the history of Northern Ireland, and he ended up covering the Holy Cross primary school furore, where his easy charm enabled him to cover the dispute from both sides. He also covered a visit to Stormont by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the funeral of a dissident IRA member, and a visit by the Dalai Lama.

It was this portfolio of work that Richard Mills took to the Times picture desk, where he secured regular freelance work for the title, and began his first assignment covering the G8 protests in Genoa.

“He was what I would term a war photographer”, said Brendan Murphy. “Over the years, he would come back to Northern Ireland from time to time, and show me where he had been: Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe – two or three times – and covering the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake.

Other colleagues had expressed reservations about the places Mills was working in. “I remember we were waiting at the gates of Stormont on a job in 2007, and he was talking about going back to Iraq or Zimbabwe”, said his friend and fellow photographer Paul McErlane.

“Northern Ireland isn’t that easy to work in, but these places, the places he was talking about were really dicey to work in.”

“One of the finest photojournalists”

McErlane says that as a way of showing his apprehension to his friend, he turned round and photographed Mills, half-jokingly saying: “Well, we’ll be needing this”. McErlane was referring to the practice of newspapers needing up to date ‘collect’ photographs of the recently deceased.

Paul McErlane says he last saw Mills on the television, during a press conference by Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. “He was hard to miss, being one of the only white people there. I tried to contact him afterwards, but the call couldn’t get through.”

A statement this morning on the British Press Photographers Association website described Mills as “both one of the most likeable people and one of the finest photojournalists currently working for the British news media”.

Richard Mills leaves a wife and a five-and-a-half year old son in London, as well as his family in Northern Ireland. The thoughts of his colleagues and friends are with them at this time.

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_A hockey fanatic, even playing in Kuwait whilst on tour in 2001. A great fun man with a heart of gold. Sadly missed and deepest sympathy to Zoe and Fin

Comment 1: Spike, 28 July 2008, 07:35 pm

Ritchie rang me from Zimbabwie in July full of excitement about a book he was producing, he spoke of our time together at RAF Bruggen and that he was missing Finn and Zoe and just wanted to be home with them; we also chatted about his sister Tara (he was so proud of her) and his Father Richard and h is amateur dramatics, he was upbeat but sounded lonely there was no indication in his voice to suggest what happened. I remember Ritchie attempting to teach me maths (simulations equations) when we served together in Germany, his patients with my slow understanding of the subject was wonderful and his light-hearted manner made the learning process so much fun, we joked about it when we last spoke. Ritchie Mills was a very special person and will be deeply missed by all who served and worked with him. God Bless you Ritchie. Per Ardua Ad Astra.   

Comment 2: Dave Bassett, 9 September 2008, 01:43 pm

hi richard

would you have a photo of a grouse . We are looking for one for a brochure on a walking route in co tipperary .

Comment 3: jim o sullivan, 2 December 2010, 04:30 pm

I taught Richard and his sister Religious Education for a while when they were at Newtownbreda High School all those years ago.
When I heard Richard had died unexpectedly in Zimbadwe I just didn’t know what to think.
My memories of Richard were that he enjoyed a laugh but was thoughtful enough to challenge me whenever he decided that I had not provided a good enough answer to some theological question. I had absolutely no problem with this for Richard was probably only voicing concerns or questions that others were thinking but were unwilling to speak out. I liked this because it meant that I did not become sloppy in my approach.
Having myself lost a sister in tragic circumstances I offer my condolences to Richard’s family even after this time.

Comment 4: T J McClean, 18 September 2012, 01:01 pm

Long time gone my friend. Still think of the good times we had together. RIP mate

Comment 5: DON LAMBERT, 31 January 2015, 10:50 am

He was my dad, he died when I as 5 I never knew him

Comment 6: Finn Mills, 21 February 2016, 03:29 pm

I shared a room with Richie at RAF High Wycombe for 3 years …. He was a gentleman and a very good friend …. I and many others who served at RAF High Wycombe will have some very funny stories to tell regarding Richie.

Finn your dad was one of the best

Comment 7: John Wood, 8 December 2016, 05:06 pm

I met Richard when he and his colleague David Lister were covering the debacle at the Holy Cross, Belfast. They came to the community house where I worked and we became mates. He had many mates as he was such a very funny, warm and likeable guy who was down to earth and genuinely cared about the people he photographed, who were part of the stories he told. He occasionally called to the community house when he was home and it was always great to see him. He talked so proudly of his wee son Finn and how much he missed the family when he was working away from home. I remember one time in particular, he recalled a story of Finn saying the word ‘Gargantuan’ when he was probably 2 years of age. He thought this was absolutely hilarious, hearing this big word coming from his little son. I can still hear his big infectious laugh.
I still miss Richard but am happy to have known him and so glad and privileged to have been his mate.

Comment 8: Ann McGuinness, 26 January 2017, 06:07 pm

I grew up with Richard (Aka Dickie ) living only a short distance from each other in the Belvoir Estate.
I could never have guessed that my friend who started out taking photographs of houses for estate agents and processed photos in Shaftesbury Square would go onto to be award winning photo journalist. Richard was always up for a laugh I remember a trip to Portsmouth to visit another friend who had joined the Navy with particular fondness. Although he passed away some time ago I still recall my friend Fondly the song “ Photograph “ by Nickelback always reminds me of a photo Richard took of us sitting on a large sofa swing at his parents house in Belvoir. RIP Dickie

Comment 9: Brian Anderson, 22 May 2017, 09:56 pm

I knew Richie and his family for a brief time when they holidayed in Fermanagh many years ago. Bumped into him again at RAF High Wycombe 1990 shortly after I joined the RAF. I’ll always remember his cheeky grin and great sense of humour. So saddened to read of his untimely passing, my sincere condolences to all his family. Per Audua Ad Astra.

Comment 10: Sharon Longworth, 21 June 2018, 11:15 pm

I can’t believe it’s 10 years since we lost you Richard. Still feels like 10 seconds. I love you and miss you so much wee bro. If there is a heaven then I know that’s where you’ll be, entertaining the angels. Til we meet again. Xxx

Comment 11: Pamela, 15 July 2018, 04:32 pm

I never knew, this obituary existed, until now. I had the honour of Richie, being the photographer at my wedding in 1999, he was also a great friend and hockey team mate. A fantastic human being, who is an enormous loss to friends and family alike. The world is a much poorer place with Richie gone. May he rest in peace.

Comment 12: Chris K, 9 February 2020, 07:44 pm

Never forgotten and always remember the fun man that Richie was …his zest for fun and life was legendary and enjoyed a good party too …and his hockey skills (according to him) slick …great colleague and friend. Cannot believe it’s 12 years …rest easy brother

Comment 13: Stephen Calvert , 14 July 2020, 09:05 pm

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