Crofton’s Andre Gariepy (pictured above with Nancy and Ronald Reagan), met countless dignitaries, celebrities and professional athletes during a legendary career as a professional cameraman and photographer.
A Life Behind The Lens
Crofton’s Andre Gariepy Reflects On A Legendary Career
The photo albums on the shelves of Andre Gariepy’s home in Crofton Meadows offer a remarkably comprehensive account of world history over the past five decades. Preserved within plastic pages, they depict revolutions and peace talks, dictators and dignitaries, and events that took him from the tundra of northern Canada to the streets of Beirut. The photos are the product of a legendary career: For more than 50 years, Gariepy was a professional cameraman at the highest levels of media, working around the globe for the CBC in Canada and CBS in America.
The career may have been his birthright: His father is a famous cameraman in Quebec, so by the time Gariepy reached high school, he’d already logged hundreds of hours learning how to take and develop photos.
“Most kids at 12 years old have to take out the garbage or cut the grass,” Gariepy said. “Me, I had to print pictures in the darkroom in our basement when people ordered pictures from my father.”
By his 18th birthday, Gariepy had already worked as a professional photographer and was at work on his first documentary. In 1973, he was named the official cameraman for whenever the British royal family visited Canada, a position he held for more than three decades.
By the mid ‘70s, Gariepy had already completed a bucket list of experiences in the world of sports: He covered his beloved Montreal Canadiens as they won the Stanley Cup and broke ribs while riding along with NASCAR great Richard Petty. He filmed from a sidecar, barely a few inches off the ground, with a motorcycle racer as he tore down a strip at 125mph; hung out of a helicopter while filming a speedboat race; and was harnessed into the back of a power boat for 10 hours filming the world water skiing championships (the day after cracking his ribs with Petty, no less).
Gariepy, who was the only cameraman allowed onto the field at Olympic Stadium during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, traveled to Havana, Cuba, to film a documentary on the Canadian athletes who were training there before the games. A few days before they were set to return to Canada, Gariepy was detained by Soviet and Cuban authorities, who alleged he had been spying on a Soviet radar installation.
Given the ultimatum of giving up his footage (and coming back to Canada empty handed after six weeks of filming), Gariepy gambled – he’d remembered that there were no places to develop color film in Cuba, so he surreptitiously swapped out his footage with blank film, handed it over to the authorities and was released. By the time the film made its way to Russia to be developed, Gariepy and the Canadian Olympic team were safely back in Montreal, film in hand.
After covering the Nicaraguan Revolution in the late 1970s, he was sent to cover the Soviet-Afghan war for CBS. While camped in the mountains outside Kabul, he got footage of a Soviet military vehicle that was peculiarly modified to be airtight. The footage, which would soon be seen by millions of viewers of CBS’ “60 Minutes,” was a revelation that helped confirm allegations that the Soviets had been using chemical weapons.
“[Getting that footage], it’s like winning the Stanley Cup, so you’re very happy, but you can’t tell anybody when it happens, because it’s not like there’s 10 CBS cameramen in Afghanistan – it’s just me – so you’re in danger if [the Soviets] know you have it,” he explained.
From Afghanistan, CBS sent him to Tehran to cover the Iranian hostage crisis, in part because his Canadian passport would afford him much more access than if they’d sent an American, but upon stepping off his plane in Iran, he was stopped by a soldier on the tarmac and ordered, at gunpoint, onto a different plane that was about to take off. The plane, he learned while in the air, was destined for New Delhi, India. Upon arrival, he hopped into a rickshaw with half a million dollars in camera equipment in tow, made his way to a hotel and called his supervisor at CBS.
“My boss says, ‘I’m so glad to hear your voice,’ and I say, ‘You won’t be when you hear where I am,’” Gariepy recalled, thinking he had blown his assignment. “My boss said, “I’ve got two pieces of good news: The first is that the Olympic team just beat the Russians (in the famous Miracle on Ice hockey game); the second is that you’re alive.”
Gariepy soon learned the Canadians had just helped six Americans, disguised as a movie crew, escape from Iran in a plot that eventually served as the basis for the movie “Argo.” Had he arrived in Tehran with his camera and his Canadian passport, he would likely have been killed on the spot.
“I feel sometimes like a cat, like I have 9 lives: I’ve been in wars, in helicopter crashes, there’s all kinds of stuff that has happened to me, but somehow I’m still here.”
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gariepy covered the peace talks between Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat in Cairo and Jerusalem; served as CBS’ White House cameraman during Ronald Reagan’s first term; and attended countless G20 conferences, UN summits and state dinners.
It was also during that time that he met his wife, Kathie, a native of Gambrills. The two almost instantly fell in love, and Gariepy moved in with her less than a week after they met.
“I felt like a little kid from high school with his first love,” Gariepy said of meeting his wife of 32 years.
Soon, the man who had lived in Paris, London, Montreal, Washington and Toronto moved to Crofton with Kathie. Even then, as he was routinely jetting around the world on assignment, Gariepy fell in love with his community and soon became heavily involved in the Crofton Kiwanis club and other organizations.
Eventually, in 1987, they moved back to Montreal, where Gariepy opened his own business, allowing him to continue his passions for the camera without dodging bullets in war-torn corners of the world. He and Kathie moved back to Crofton a decade ago, where Gariepy has again fully immersed himself in the community. He is president of the Crofton Meadows Homeowners Association and has volunteered with numerous ventures throughout the area.
He still works from time to time, but only on passion projects. For the most part, he enjoys a life of retirement, of settling down in a community with Kathie and his beloved dogs, Dallas and Abby, and of reflecting on the remarkable experiences of a life behind the lens.
”Since I’m retired now, I have a lot more time to think about where I came from, where I am, where I’m going,” Gariepy said. “Now I realize how lucky I was to see all the places I’ve seen and meet all the people I met. It still amazes me. Life is beautiful.”