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Chief photographer of Daily retiring after nearly 33-year career

By Paul Huggins 340-2395

The tornado survivor suddenly emerged from the rubble of bricks and mortar that shortly before had been a Huntsville apartment building.

Covered in debris dust, the man stood victoriously above the grave that couldn't keep him, shot both arms in the air and shouted his joy at escaping death.

Decatur Daily Chief Photographer Gary Lloyd, who had chased that November 1989 tornado across Morgan County all the way to Huntsville, was right in front of the man with camera in hand.

The dogged determination to chase that storm and sacrifice his Honda Accord to heavy hail was about to pay off with perhaps a future Pulitzer just a snapshot away.

Lloyd pressed the shutter release.

Nothing happened.

The camera's electronic shutter failed, probably because of foul weather.

"That was probably the best shot I ever took that I never got," he said. "That probably would have won me national awards."

But after Friday, when Lloyd talks about the one that got away, it'll probably be a 9-pound lunker he nearly reeled in from the Tennessee River.

Lloyd, 59, is retiring after nearly 33 years of showing Daily readers the triumphant and tragic faces that made news since December 1974.

His career as a photojournalist unofficially began five years earlier while serving as a life-support technician for Air Force fighter pilots in Vietnam. On the way over, he bought a 35 mm camera in Japan, and his hobby quickly became photographing people.

"I never really had an interest in taking pictures of scenes, like trees or glistening water," he said. "I was drawn to people."

Even then, Lloyd wondered if he could make a career with a camera. He especially longed to be a shutterbug when he returned home to Atlanta and took a job at a Sears auto shop. Though messy and mundane, that job was a key to his future because that's where he met Becky, his wife-to-be.

She was a Decatur native and introduced him to a friend, Bobby Herbert, a Daily photographer. Despite Herbert's recommendation, the newspaper turned Lloyd away for lack of experience.

By this time, Lloyd said, he was in love with Decatur, especially the river. He and Becky moved here to be closer to her parents, and Lloyd enrolled at Calhoun Community College to study photography. Before he graduated, he was working for The Daily.

Lloyd figures he and fellow Daily photographer John Godbey, who has worked here 31 years, have photographed everyone or at least a relative of everyone, in Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties.

"That's one thing I'd have to say about The Decatur Daily compared to other papers in the state. The Daily strives to get local faces in the paper," he said.

Lloyd said the free children's birthday photos he takes today are regularly the offspring of parents whose birthday portraits he made when they were children.

"I guess the most rewarding part of (my job) is when someone in Decatur is introduced to me and they say 'I see your name in the paper.' It means they recognize my work," he said.

"Of course, sometimes they think I'm John Godbey," he joked.

With retirement, Lloyd said, he looks forward to spending more time with grandchildren in Nashville and Birmingham, and enjoying the serenity of his lake house.

He said he will miss his photo staff and other Daily employees, and even listening to the police scanner for breaking news. Mostly, he said, he will miss knowing the news firsthand.

"I'll have to start reading the paper now to know what's happening," Lloyd said.

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