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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Theo Gruttman

Theo Gruttman of Shelter Island died at home on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. He was 77 years old.

Theo was born on Feb. 18, 1943 in Essen, Germany to Maria (nee Dressel) and Theo Gruttman. He graduated from Gymnasium (the equivalent of high school) in Essen. After Gymnasium, he took on an apprenticeship in a shipping business in Essen. On Jan. 5, 2001 he married the love of his life Judith Jonson on Shelter Island.

A gifted fashion photographer for such magazines as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar — working with celebrated fashion editors such as Anna Wintour, Grace Mirabella and Liz Tilberis — Theo bought his first home on Shelter Island in 1975 and spent much of his time on the Island.

Though he traveled and worked globally for 30 years, Theo frequently staged his photo shoots on the Island, in a career that later expanded to include shooting lifestyle features for Better Homes & Gardens and other magazines. 

Seeing the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” as a young man in his native Essen, convinced him he wanted to live in the U.S., specifically in Manhattan. The next day, he began the process for immigration.

When he arrived in New York with only 200 Deutschemarks in his pocket and fluency in German, English and French, Theo quickly got a job working in the export/import department at Johns Manville.

It was the birthday gift of a Leica camera that changed his life. He began taking pictures and never looked back.

Thinking he would like to have a home on the Island, Theo bought the first house he saw on Stearns Point Road, after perusing a map. Thirty years later, he sold it, to build a new one to his specifications in the center of town, designed to accommodate his collection of four classic Aston Martins — one of which was seen in the film “Catch Me If You Can” — and two vintage pickup trucks.

He was also a member of the Aston Martin Owners Club.

Predeceased by his parents Theo and Maria and his brother Jürgen Gruttman, all of Essen, he is survived by his wife of almost 20 years, Judy Gruttman of Shelter Island; two nieces, Alice Trah (Karl), and Andrea Gruttman; one grandniece, Karlotta Trah; and two grandnephews, Philip Gruttman and Ferdinand Trah, all of Essen.

Judy would like to thank friends and caregivers who went beyond the call of duty in Theo’s final days: Mary McFarlin, Nancy Manipas, Cendy Ram, Dr. Josh Potter, Dr. Mark Halsey, Ray Congdon, the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy, East End Hospice and Sollis Health.

The family will receive friends on Saturday, Nov. 21 from 2 to 5 p.m. at The Shelter Island Funeral Home, 23 West Neck Road.

Memorial donations may be made in Theo’s name to the Shelter Island Public Library, Post Office Box 2016, Shelter Island, New York 11964.