Gallatin photographer Richard Suter is known for capturing picture perfect moments during his career. However, it’s his most recent work without a camera that has captured the attention of a worldwide audience.

In the months since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year, the 59-year-old has been on a mission to spread the message that positivity is greater than negativity. Through his testimony and the use of three symbols, + > -, Suter has inspired countless others to never give up hope despite their circumstances.

It is for this reason that the Gallatin News has named Suter the 2021 Gallatin Citizen of the Year.

“My last six months have been some of the best times of my life,” Suter said about his journey. “Not only are we winning but look at the people realizing that there is hope. The way to have that hope is to have the right attitude and you get that from knowing that positivity is greater than negativity. We all know that, but we have to plant that in our head daily.”

Suter first became interested in photography when he was in his mid-30’s. He went on to start his own business in 2008 and now works for nearly 70 companies and organizations each year. Some of his clients have included the Tennessee Titans and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

After doctors found a malignant tumor in his pancreas in April, Suter began to use his battle with cancer to promote the importance of keeping a positive attitude. That message is symbolized by a “+ > -” tattoo he got on the top of his hand about three years ago.

A purple wristband with the message was recently worn by longtime friend and Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker during the Major League Baseball World Series. In addition to being displayed on billboards and yard signs across Gallatin, the symbols have also been drawn in the sand on beaches around the world including ones in Denmark, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

“Knowing Richard is the power that gives the message legs because he is living what he is preaching and it’s showing the strength of that,” Mayor Paige Brown said. “Because he sets such an example of the power of positivity over negativity, it makes people want to be more like that. He is a gift to so many and it is his spirit and zest for life that is so contagious.”

Suter first saw “+ > -” on an opposing player’s cleats while photographing a Titans’ home game several years ago.

In recent months, more than 60 people have gotten tattoos of the symbols like Suter to show their support and spread the message of positivity to others.

Rick Murphy was one of those individuals. The tattoo, which he got on his left forearm just before his 70th birthday earlier this summer, was his first.

“It’s kind of like a bond between all of us,” Murphy said. “I’ve been around a lot of people in my life, and I’ve never seen anybody as upbeat and positive as Richard.”

Since being diagnosed with cancer, Suter has undergone 13 chemotherapy treatments to shrink the size of the tumor in his pancreas. The 59-year-old will undergo surgery to have the tumor removed once it becomes small enough.

While he is unsure about when that operation might take place, Suter said he is instead focused on spreading joy and hope to others regardless of the circumstances they may be in.

“I’m just continuing to do all the stuff I do, which is loving on people, helping somebody, telling people how great and awesome life is,” Suter said. “This (message) and this tattoo are for everything in life. Everybody is fighting a battle of some kind. I just want people to always know that there is hope. We all rise by lifting others.”