ANNISTON, Ala. (WIAT) — The first time Stephen Gross met Trent Penny, it was through a lens.

When Penny graduated from Piedmont High School in 1979, Gross was there to take his picture.

Gross, then a fairly new photographer at The Anniston Star, was covering the event for the newspaper and was given a special request by the paper’s editor and Trent’s father, Basil Penny: take some photos of Trent, Basil and the family after the graduation.

Gross agreed. A decades-long friendship would follow.

On Monday, more than 40 years after that high school graduation, Gross lost his friend and colleague.

Trent Penny, a longtime photographer for the Anniston Star, died Monday at age 60, two years after a cancer diagnosis.

Penny, a self-described “country boy raised on a farm,” first came to the Star in 1982. Originally in the pressroom, he worked his way to becoming a photographer.

“He wanted to go with us to ball games,” Gross remembered. “We would get him a camera and let him shoot beside us just to let him see what it was like.”

Penny fell in love.

Gross said that Penny picked up the trade quickly, always willing to learn and always open to suggestions.

“He did everything, and he did everything good,” Gross said.

While he shot events of all kinds, documenting the lives of Calhoun County residents for decades, Penny’s particular passion was sports. A Crimson Tide and Atlanta Braves fan, Penny was at home on the sidelines of a football field.

“In his trademark neon green shirt, he couldn’t be missed at ball games all over the state, shooting iconic photos which chronicled the highs and lows of battles on the field,” Josephine Ayers, publisher of the Anniston Star, said Tuesday.

She said Penny’s death marked a sad day for the Star. “His own battle against cancer was a valiant one, now tragically lost, leaves us to mourn with his family and hundreds of friends. May he rest in peace.”

Penny was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. He’d been having medical issues well before the diagnosis, Stephen Gross said Tuesday, but he hesitated to seek medical treatment.

“He said the five most dangerous words: ‘Maybe it will go away,'” Gross said. “It never did.”

Through it all, Penny never wanted to be a burden to anyone. Once, Gross ripped through the interior of his car to find the source of a foul smell. He found a wrapper that had slid under the mechanism of his passenger seat, but he couldn’t figure out where it had come from.

Two or three months later, Gross and Penny went through a drive-thru for lunch and Gross watched as Penny picked off the tomatoes, the onions — all the toppings he didn’t want. Then he balled them up into a sandwich wrapper.

“Why didn’t you order it without it?” Gross asked.

“They don’t like doing that,” Penny responded.

Gross realized where the smelly wrapper had come from. But Gross said Penny’s behavior was in line with the man he knew — one who tried to make others’ lives easier.

“He didn’t want to put anybody out. He wanted things to go smooth and for nobody to do anything they didn’t have to.”

Following veteran Star photographer Ken Elkins’ retirement in 2000, Penny became the newspaper’s chief photographer. Over the years, Penny became a mainstay at the Star, earning the respect of colleagues, the trust of the public, and the fear of journalism interns. In 2003, he won the award for AP Alabama Photo of the Year in 2003 for a picture he took at the funeral of Jacksonville’s Dwayne Williams, who was killed in the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon.

Mickey Welsh, a photojournalist at the Montgomery Advertiser who has worked at the newspaper since 1986, spent years working alongside Penny as they covered some of the biggest stories happening in Alabama.

“Trent was a good man and a good photographer,” Welsh said. “The kind of guy that would give you his towel at a rainy football game and help you troubleshoot a computer or camera problem.”

Welsh said that in addition to his photography itself, Penny was also well-known in the news business for his signature look, often seen while covering sports.

“He always wore neon green caps, T-shirts, hoodies and shoes when photographing the big games so that his family could find him on the sidelines on the television broadcasts,” Welsh said. “If anyone else wore a similar color we would give them grief for wearing Trent’s colors.”

Gary Cosby, chief photographer at The Tuscaloosa News, said Penny was part of a tight-knit group of photojournalists in Alabama.

“I have been shooting in Alabama since 1994, but I am the least experienced among the old hands who are still around and working,” Cosby said. “Trent was one of the good guys in our business.”

Like Welsh, Cosby said Penny was always a joy to be around.

“He was the kind of guy that was easy to like and easy to get along with, not to mention he was a wonderful photojournalist,” he said. “We all have to go sometime. There is no choice in that, but I hate to see Trent pass on. He is a good man and a good friend to all of us. He will be missed.”