Lawrence S. Williams, 98, a prominent Philadelphia photographer who chronicled World War II, took pictures of two presidents, then focused his camera on the city's architecture, died Saturday, March 5, of pneumonia at Shannondell at Valley Forge.
Mr. Williams worked with city planner Edmund Bacon and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission on an ambitious project to document the cityscape as its buildings changed after 1950.
The fruits of that effort became the Williams Collection, a treasure trove of 250,000 images that the Athenaeum of Philadelphia acquired in 2001. The photographs were made public in an exhibit there titled "Developing Urban Images."
"As the post-war face of Philadelphia changed, Lawrence S. Williams recorded the 18th- and 19th-century cityscape that was being swept aside, as well as what came after," the Athenaeum wrote in announcing the Nov. 5, 2003 event.
The pictures can be seen online at http://www.philaathenaeum.org/Williams/about.html
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Williams graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a technical high school, in 1937. He then went to work for the Baltimore Sun as a general assignment photographer and soon after joined the Associated Press, covering Washington. Mr. Williams also was a correspondent for the U.S. War Department during World War II.
He shot the first color photograph of Harry S. Truman, and the official presidential photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his family said. He photographed U.S. General of the Army Omar Bradley and U.S. Army Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell. Mr. Williams' photo of Stilwell was later made into a stamp by the U.S. Postal Service.
After the war, Mr. Williams was picture editor for Holiday Magazine, based in the Curtis Building in Center City, and then became a freelance photographer. He traveled the world on assignment for clients.
He once strapped himself to the roof of the family station wagon and had his wife drive on a road next to a rail line, so he could get a shot of a moving train without the blurring. At another point, he persuaded a fire department to wet down a street so it would glisten, adding interest to a picture of trucks.
His work appeared in Collier's, American Magazine, Country Gentleman, Farm Journal, Parade, Ford Times, Presbyterian Life, Pageant, and other magazines.
From 1951 to 1980, he worked for himself as Lawrence S. Williams Inc. Architectural Photography. He turned his attention to architecture, both in Philadelphia and around the world, garnering the respect of architects Vincent Kling, I.M. Pei, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. All gave him commissions to photograph their buildings.
Mr. Williams was married for 72 years to Avilda Leyshon Williams. They lived in Paoli until moving to Shannondell, a senior community, in 2005. The couple traveled all over the world and took road trips within the United States.
"He was amazing - full of energy and vibrancy up till a few weeks ago," said daughter-in-law Joyce Williams. "He was handsome and dashing. He was at his best in a crowd of people."
The Williamses had two children. Their son, Jay Stephen Williams, died in 2011. Avilda Williams died in 2012.
Mr. Williams is survived by a daughter, Wendy Williams; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday, March 14, at St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, 203 N. Valley Forge Rd., Devon, Pa. 19333. Burial is in the churchyard.
Donations may be made to the church at the address above.