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Lloyd Pearson, Sun photographer

Versatile photographer shot the iconic image of the Mayflower vans moving the Colts out of Baltimore

By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

6:18 PM EST, January 3, 2012

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Lloyd Pearson, a veteran Baltimore Sun photographer whose iconic image of yellow and green Mayflower moving vans rolling the Baltimore Colts out of town during a midnight snowstorm earned him lasting fame, died New Year's Day from complications of cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The longtime Overlea resident was 90.

Garn Lloyd Pearson — he never used his first name — was born the son of a cowboy/house painter and a homemaker in Monroe, Utah.

His family moved around rural Utah before settling during the Great Depression in Salt Lake City, where he graduated in 1939 from Western High School with honors in art and drama.

While attending the University of Utah, Mr. Pearson worked in a hotel and a Walgreens Drugstore, and after dropping out of college, moved to Los Angeles, where he went to work for Walt Disney Studios.

"It lasted one day. Sitting at a desk drawing raindrops for the movie 'Pinocchio' was not what he wanted to do with his creative talents," said his daughter, Janet Pearson Seaborg, who lives in Rosedale.

Mr. Pearson joined the Navy in 1942 and served aboard the minesweeper USS Teal as a radioman in the Pacific Theater.

"His artistic talent was recognized by his commanding officer when a competition resulted in his design being chosen as the best representative of the Teal's mission, which was to be painted on both sides of the ship," said Mrs. Seaborg.

While the Teal was stationed in the Aleutians, Mr. Pearson studied photography and made the acquaintance by letter of his future wife.

It was while standing lonely night watches that he and another young sailor, Vince Fertitta, spoke of home and family. They discovered they each had a sister the same age, so Mr. Pearson began a correspondence with Mr. Fertitta's sister, Phyllis, who lived in Baltimore, while Mr. Fertitta began to write to Mr. Pearson's sister, Norma.

Mr. Fertitta eventually stopped writing, but Mr. Pearson persisted for the next 19 months.

"They fell in love through the written word," his daughter said. "They went on virtual dates, wrote poetry to each other and developed a lasting friendship."

Right after V-J Day in 1945, Mr. Pearson, who was on leave, headed by train to Utah to see his parents, and then on to Baltimore to see Phyllis.

By the time his train reached Chicago, Mr. Pearson was so impatient to see her that he purchased a used blue 1937 DeSoto for $500 and drove practically nonstop to Baltimore. They were engaged within a week.

The couple married in 1946 — and took a cross-country honeymoon by auto. After living in Utah and California for several years, they settled in Overlea in 1950.

In 1966, after working for 12 years as an industrial photographer for the old Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River, Mr. Pearson became a Baltimore Sun staff photographer, developing a reputation for versatility and hard work.

His work ranged from general assignments to sports. It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Pearson to ride a boom-crane girder high over the city to get a view from atop the USF&G Building, now 100 Light St., during its construction. He recorded the dramatic flight in the early 1980s of the space shuttle Columbia piggybacked aboard a Boeing 747 as it circled over Baltimore.

One of his favorite images, said family members, was Johnny Unitas making his last touchdown pass as a Baltimore Colt.

His work was published in The Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun and the old Sunday Sun Magazine.

One of his most reproduced and heartbreaking pictures came about in the early hours of March 29, 1984. Mr. Pearson, who was outside the Colts' training facility in Owings Mills, recorded for posterity the Mayflower moving vans that hauled away a city's football legacy to its new home in Indianapolis.

"Lloyd took one of the most dramatic photographs in Baltimore Sun history the night he caught Baltimore Colts owner Bob Irsay sneaking the Colts football equipment out of town on a cold March night in 1984 under the cover of darkness and snow," said Ernest F. Imhoff, a retired Evening Sun and Baltimore Sun editor.

"The huge moving van was pictured by Lloyd amid hundreds of flakes of heavy snow in the darkness. In the background, a solitary soul stands with his hands in his pockets forlornly staring at the Baltimore Colts about to vanish into history. Near the man is a simple sign stamping the poignant scene: 'Baltimore Colts,'" he said.

"This single photograph made owner [Bob] Irsay the devil for many Baltimore fans and the hero of Indianapolis," said Mr. Imhoff.

"Lloyd was a lot of fun to work with, that's for sure," said Walter M. McCardell, a longtime Baltimore Sun photographer who retired in 1990. "He was a good photographer who always went out looking for things and found them."

Mr. Pearson always had his camera on the front seat of his car, even when he wasn't working, in case he chanced upon something that caught his eye.

"Nothing got by him that he didn't see in black and white, 8 X 10, and he always had the perfect caption," his daughter said.

He retired in 1986.

Mr. Pearson's hobby was the call of the road. Because he only had two weeks' vacation, Mr. Pearson loaded his family into his car and set off for the West to visit family, and except for catnaps, they kept moving.

By 1982, when he had given up his nonstop drives for air travel, Mr. Pearson had criss-crossed the country 73 times in 25 cars, racking up roughly 922,000 road miles.

"If I don't get behind the wheel, I get withdrawal symptoms," he told The Sun in a 1988 interview.

"The neighbors know about it — the nutty guy who buys another car every two years and drives cross-country with Phyllis or other families," he said.

The longtime Sipple Avenue resident had lived at Park View at Rosedale, a senior living community, since 2003.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Evans Funeral Chapel, 8800 Harford Road.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Pearson is survived by two sons, David L. Pearson of Austin, Texas, and Michael G. Pearson of Honolulu; a brother, Buddy Larsen of Apple Valley, Calif.; a sister, Mona Larsen of Las Vegas; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com